January is National Train Your Dog Month, and to celebrate, our doctors and techs have shared some advice that helped them train their own pets.
Give the Dog a Bone
Dogs are extremely food motivated. It’s in their nature! Because of this, dogs see food as a reward, and this is extremely useful in training.
The ideal way to use food in training is to give your dog a treat after they perform the trick or behavior that you want. This reinforces the behavior and indicates that what they just did was good. You should be rewarding them every time they do this, and treats need to be given directly after that desired behavior is exhibited. If you wait too long, it will confuse the dog, and they will not know why they are being rewarded.
When training a new pet, consistency really is key. We know that dogs do not understand spoken language well, but they can learn both verbal and non-verbal cues when repeated. Without this, dogs can become anxious and confused, and whatever you are trying to teach them likely won’t be retained. For example, if a dog is reprimanded once for sitting on the couch but allowed to sit there the next day, they are not going to know whether or not this behavior is acceptable, and they will likely continue to do it. The same lesson applies when you’re teaching them tricks. If you want to teach your dog to sit, make sure you are consistently using the same wording when training them. If you use “sit” during one training session and “down” during the next one, your dog won’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. As humans, we know when two words are synonymous, but that is not a lesson dogs can comprehend. Be consistent in your training, and with time, you’ll begin to see things stick.
Praise as Much as You Scold, if Not More
Like children, your dog will thrive when given praise. “They strive to be a good boy/girl” Courtney, one of our Small Animal Techs, states.
When training relies solely on punishing bad behavior without rewarding good behavior, your dog will become anxious and fearful, especially depending on how that punishment is given. Ashley, one of our Receptionists and a former Tech, points out that dogs respond better to a stern tone than they do to physical punishment, such as hitting or sticking their nose in whatever they did wrong. Physically punishing a dog teaches them that lashing out is an acceptable response to bad behavior, encouraging fearful biting or other anxious tendencies such as accidents or chewing on furniture.
Ideally, you should be praising your dog whenever they do something right in order to encourage them to repeat that behavior. This is how tricks are learned, and it is also how dogs learn essential home training, such as going to the bathroom outside or walking on a leash. Tone of voice plays a role here as well, as you can praise a dog by speaking to it in a high-pitched, friendly tone. You can also reward your dog with treats, which has previously been mentioned as a very effective training method.
Develop Good Rapport with Your Vet
Like we stated in our article on new pet tips, developing a good relationship with your vet is so important for your pet’s well-being. Not only can they take care of your pet when they’re sick, but they also possess a wealth of knowledge that can be beneficial in all aspects of pet ownership, training included. Vets often have a wide variety of clients, and because of that, they have experience with pets of many different personalities and demeanors. If your pet is exhibiting strange behaviors or acting out, your vet can probably tell you why. Additionally, if they can’t pinpoint the problem, they have a network of other doctors and veterinary experts that can.
Focus on the End Goal
Training a dog is a major challenge. As previously stated, dogs don’t understand spoken language, so it will take some time and repetition before a new command sticks. There are going to be setbacks along the way that may want to make you give up on the process completely, but if you focus on why you’re training your dog to begin with, it makes the difficulties worthwhile.
Training your dog is so important for so many reasons. For one, it keeps the dog safe. Learning essential skills like walking on a leash and how to behave around other dogs will keep your pet out of harm’s way and allow you to avoid some dangerous situations. Training your dog also helps you form a relationship with them, strengthening your bond and making you feel more connected. Finally, dog training provides your dog with mental stimulation, which keeps them happy and prevents them from getting bored.
Once you learn how to communicate with your dog effectively, training can become a fun way for you to spend quality time with your four-legged best friend. Even old dogs can learn new tricks, so dedicate some time this month to training.