Dog Training: The Ultimate Guide from Woofz
To most people’s surprise, dogs, even though they may seem like naughty children, especially when young, are different from humans, and this causes a lot of misunderstandings. Dogs don’t understand why they’re punished for peeing on the floor or why they can’t just run freely and play with everybody on the street. On the other hand, humans don’t understand why their fluffy baby misbehaves, thinking that they’re bad owners or their dog doesn't love them.
Even though our behaviors are naturally different, we, as a more intellectually sophisticated species, have all the opportunities to build a harmonious relationship with our dogs. Correct training will help us teach them (carefully and kindly) how our society works and what we expect from them.
How to Train Your Dog: The Basics
Dogs learn in two ways: through "operant" and "classical" conditioning.
"Operant" conditioning is about teaching your dog specific behaviors like "Sit." To reinforce these behaviors, reward your dog with things they like, such as treats, toys, praise, or freedom from their leash when they perform the behavior correctly.
"Classical" conditioning involves linking good or bad experiences with other things happening at the same time. For example, if you shake a bag of cookies before giving one to your dog a few times, your furry friend will get excited every time you shake the bag, expecting a treat.
Operant conditioning involves four types of consequences:
Good things start (positive reinforcement) - e.g., a treat is given to the dog after they sit.
Bad things end (negative reinforcement) - e.g., bladder relief after urinating.
Bad things start (positive punishment) - e.g., the owner yells at the dog after they chew furniture (the word “positive” here does not mean anything good, it means that this way you “add” something bad).
Good things end (negative punishment) - e.g., the owner gives the dog a time-out and takes away their freedom, interaction with them, and access to toys or food.
To raise a happy and confident dog and strengthen your relationship, you should always use positive reinforcement and negative punishment (if necessary).
Communication and senses
Effective dog training hinges on clear communication and understanding your dog's senses.
Communication: Clear communication fosters faster and better learning. If your dog seems stubborn, it's likely a communication issue. Teaching cues or behaviors takes time and patience; raising your voice won't help.
Senses: Dogs rely on their senses, especially smell and hearing. They interpret the world through scent, so allowing them to explore with their nose is mentally stimulating. Their hearing is far superior, picking up sounds we can't hear, like dog whistles. Be mindful of your dog's sensitivity to loud noises to avoid startling them.
Noise phobias are very common in dogs as they are very sensitive to loud noises, such as fireworks, and that’s why it’s so important to implement noise desensitization in the puppy socialization period.
Top Doggie Training Tips
Find the most effective reinforcer: food, playing with other dogs, going outdoors and sniffing new smells, playing with people, or any other enjoyable activity.
Make time for training: to get good results, you should do several short training sessions throughout the day.
Incorporate training into your routine: when you take your dog for a walk, feed, or play with them.
Use meals to train your dog (especially with puppies and dogs with low motivation): they will be much more motivated to do the task you’ve requested.
Be consistent: consistency creates a habit. For instance, if you don’t let your dog on the couch, you should never let them sit there or even jump on it. If you fail for one day, the dog will be smart enough to know that “sometimes, it works,” and they will try to jump on that couch every day.
Set your training goals: develop a plan and break the goals down into actionable steps. Too busy for that?
Download the Woofz app, which, according to TechNational, goes beyond typical pet apps by offering over 70 training courses to foster better relationships between dogs and owners. Woofz will help you have all the instructions ready and receive reminders every time you need to train.
Puppy Training: Potty Training, Socialization, and House Manners
Potty and house training
When you welcome a puppy into your home, you have the possibility of making them the dog you’ve always wanted. House training, basic obedience, and socialization are a must for you to live in harmony with your dog.
House Training: Start by teaching your puppy a verbal cue for going potty outside. The best way is to use a consistent command, such as "Go potty" or "Outside." When they do their business in the right spot, offer praise and a treat. Avoid punishing mistakes; instead, gently redirect them to the correct location without scolding. In the first few months, you should be able to supervise your furry friend and take them outside (or to their designated potty area) many times a day.
Establish a Routine: Puppies are most likely to pee after eating, after sleeping, after drinking water, and after playing. Learn your pup's potty schedule; you might find it helpful to keep a notebook to track when and how often they go. Consistency is key, so always supervise and take them out at these key moments to set them up for success.
Positive Reinforcement: Dogs thrive on positive reinforcement. Praise and reward your puppy every time they do their business outside. Dogs don't instinctively understand that they shouldn't pee inside; it's your role to teach them the right behavior. If you catch them in the act indoors, avoid startling them with loud scolding; simply say "Ohh" or “Oops” and gently guide them to the designated potty area.
Socializing your puppy is a fun and important part of their early development. This special time typically happens between 2.5-3 weeks and 9-13 weeks, with the peak around 6-8 weeks.
During this period, your pup is like a sponge, eager to soak up new experiences. It's essential to introduce them to various things – like different sounds, textures, places, other dogs, people, and objects.
The key is to make these experiences positive and enjoyable. Offer treats, toys, and lots of fuss to create happy associations. By doing this, you help your pup grow into a well-adjusted, confident adult dog and reduce the chances of fear-based behaviors like excessive barking.
Last but not least is home-alone training. Separation anxiety is a common problem that pet parents face. To avoid it and to teach your dog “house manners,” make sure that your fluffy friend is trained to spend time alone and has better entertainment (toys, TV, access to a window) than chewing on your shoes.
Basic Dog Obedience Training: Barking, Stealing, and Leash Pulling
To solve any behavior problem your dog is showing, you need to think about what is reinforcing that behavior.
If your dog barks excessively whenever they want attention, they keep doing it because you give them attention immediately after they bark.
If your dog pulls on the leash because they want to get close to an exciting smell, they keep doing that because pulling works.
If your dog steals food that’s on the counter, they keep doing it because they’ve managed to get food before.
You need to stop reinforcing poor behavior, create and reinforce good habits instead, and think about ways to prevent the behavior from happening. Also, you can get them some mental stimulation games for when you can’t give them attention (but try your best to find that time yourself).
Now, if your dog is pulling, you should:
Stop and call them or wait until they come back to you
Then reinforce that behavior by continuing to walk and letting them get close to the scent
Reward your dog when they walk on a loose leash so that they learn they should walk close to you, and understand that when the leash is tense, the walk will be stopped as a “punishment”.
If you notice that you alone can’t cope with a certain problem, it’s always better to either consult a dog trainer or download our Woofz app, which has various dog and puppy training programs (created alongside professional cynologists), including ones for problem behaviors.
Basic commands (Marker, Name, Look, Come, Sit, Down, Stand, Place, Stay, No, Take it, Drop it, Leave it, Fetch, Heel, Off) are crucial to teaching your pooch the behavior you expect from them. And teaching them is simpler than you think!
To get the behavior you want, you can use luring, shaping, capturing, or modeling. The most common and easiest way is luring.
For instance, if you want to teach your dog to “Sit” on cue, you should:
Prepare a Treat: Begin by placing a small treat between your thumb and fingers.
Offer the Treat: Hold your hand with the palm facing up, allowing your dog to sniff the treat.
Guide the Dog: Slowly move the treat over their head, encouraging them to crane their neck upward. This motion should prompt them to sit.
Watch for Jumping: If your dog jumps up to get the treat, it likely means you're holding the treat too high above their head. In this case, withdraw the treat and try again, this time using a motion that discourages jumping.
Address Shuffling: If your dog shuffles back instead of sitting, repeat the same steps, encouraging them to sit.
To get your dog showing the behavior reliably on cue, you should do several trials and then start adding distractions to the environment (dogs, people, sounds). Remember to have fun!
Fun tricks to train your dog
Fun tricks are a great way of building up your relationship with your dog. Also, it helps to have your dog responding more reliably to your commands as well as have them stimulated and relaxed to prevent digging, barking, chewing, and separation anxiety.
You can teach your dog almost anything, from “Spin” to “Get My Slippers” commands; there are hundreds of tricks. It’s important that you start with the basics and gradually increase the difficulty.
Sometimes, you need to be a bit inventive. For example, if you want your dog to learn “Kiss,” you can start putting some peanut butter on your cheek and ask your dog to “Kiss” you. Later on, you can ask them to “Kiss” before giving them peanut butter/treats, and with several repetitions, your furry buddy will start to “Kiss” you on a voice cue alone.
Advanced Dog Training
Advanced training is more than teaching commands. It’s a transition from the initial stage of training to the fluency stage, where you:
- Strive to have no prompts
- Stop reinforcing the dog every time they perform a command (intermittent reinforcement)
- Refine the form
- Increase reaction speed and (if applicable) the speed of commands
- Proof against three parameters: Distraction, Duration, and Distance. This is the final stage that will show you if your dog is responding to your commands in any environment, at any distance, for the period of time you asked for.
Advanced Training Example
If you’ve finished the initial stage of training the “Sit” command, you should fade prompting (luring with the hand), then transition to intermittent reinforcement (reinforce only in some trials instead of in all trials), start to reinforce only if the dog responds within one second, or only if they sit right where they were when you requested them, and start training in a place with other dogs, people, or other types of distraction.
If the fluency stage of training is done with every command you taught your dog, they will respond to you in every situation, in every environment, or even when someone else is requesting them to do it. When you achieve this, the “trained dog” you once dreamed about will be your dog.
Just don’t forget to revise this knowledge from time to time!
Woofz Content Manager with a deep passion for dogs and a strong affinity for positive reinforcement training methods.
Certified dog trainer, exclusive positive reinforcement methods & tackling aggression problems.