When you are training many dogs a day rather than just your own, it’s easy to find shortcuts and little tricks that make training a dog easier, faster, and more fun for both the human teacher and the canine student. It’s also easier to see things from the dog’s perspective which can be the hidden answer to why things aren’t working the way they should. Here are some of the things I learned going from house to house and dog to dog. I hope they make your dog’s education easier and more delightful for both of you.
Teach Your Dog to Pay Attention
A great and easy way to teach your dog or puppy to pay attention is with a Follow Me game. Whistle, click your tongue, say your dog’s name, and begin to walk through your house, encouraging your off-leash dog to follow you. Praise and entice as you go, then stop, bend and pet your dog. Now continue, going from room to room, changing direction, encouraging him as you go. What you want is for your dog to follow you and to look at your face for direction or clues. Practice briefly a few times a day. Praise and play a game to end the exercise.
As you may know, education happens only when both the teacher and the student pay attention. When you are ready to teach your dog to pay attention, put your phone aside, finish your breakfast or lunch, shut off the TV, or do whatever else you need to do to keep your mind on your dog. You will love the results when you are both 100 percent there.
Have a Plan
It’s best to know what you want to accomplish, not only when training but even when playing a game. It might be as simple as teaching your dog to sit and wait while you fill his dinner dish. Or that today you want to teach your dog to play Hide and Seek. No matter what’s next on your list, having a plan will help you teach systematically and will keep your mind, and your dog’s mind, on the task at hand.
Do Not Repeat Whatever Your Dog Has Just Done Well
Are you sweating out the sit-stay, or is it really hard to get your dog to lie down when you ask him to? Here’s an important tip. When you finally get that gorgeous sit-stay, your dog looking at your face to see what comes next, no self-grooming or an urgent itch to scratch in the middle of work, praise and go on to something else or quit the session, ending with a fun game. Do not ask your dog to repeat and repeat what he has just demonstrated he can and will do when asked.
Variety Keeps Your Dog on His Toes
Start your dog’s education in the quiet of your own home and then, as he “gets it,” begin to add distractions and change locations so that Sit doesn’t work only in your den but also in the wide world away from home. Do not make each practice session the same length, either. Sometimes it’s Sit, Good Dog, and done. Sometimes you might work for half an hour. You will also want to have a variety of ways to praise your dog. You might let him know he’s done a great job with a treat, with clapping, with a high five, with a game, with an enthusiastic “Yay!” Be sure to include one silent way to praise, in case you are someplace where you shouldn’t make noise, such as an outdoor concert. We use a thumbs up. Variety not only spices up dog training and game playing, it means you will never be caught unable to tell your dog what a fabulous job he is doing.
Are you tossing a rubber duck for your dog to retrieve? Tell him “Find the duck.” One at a time, name all his toys. The more he learns, the faster he will learn and the more fun he’ll be. Do you want your dog to come up on the bed and cuddle with you? Pat the bed and tell him so: “Touch” or “Cuddle” or whatever word you like as long as you are consistent. When out for a walk, say Left or Right or Straight Ahead at the corner. I like to teach my dog “Go Home!” and though he’s on leash, I let him lead the way, starting to teach this from very close to where I live and increasing the distance and changing the route as we go. You can name family members, telling your dog to “Find Maggie” or “Find Mom.” The more you teach, the more interesting your dog will be.
Always End Lessons on a Positive Note
There’s usually something you think your dog will never get, a reliable Stay, an easy Down, a speedy Come. As you work on the more difficult stuff, do not end your training lesson with frustration. That, alas, is what he’ll remember. Instead, do the best you can and then move on to something easy, something your dog always aces. That way you will both be happy to work when it’s training time again.
Keeping education fun means you will keep educating, making your friendship deeper and your dog safer and happier.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Carol Lea Benjamin is a noted dog trainer, who, in 2002, was elected to The International Association of Canine Professionals Hall of Fame for “a lifetime of dedication to dogs and their training.” She is the author of numerous award-winning books on dog behavior as well as the Shamus Award-winning Rachel Alexander and Dash mystery series. Benjamin lives in New York City with her two dogs, Sky, a Border Collie, and Ziggy, an English Shepherd.
Published April 12, 2021