Principles that guide trainers and owners across many dog training topics.
Using positive reinforcement first to teach your dog new things is much less stressful on them. You can only even think about using light punishments once they know the behavior you actually want them to do. If your dog hasn’t been taught with positive reinforcement first, being punished for something they don’t understand will be very stressful! This can damage your relationship and cause your dog to totally shut down.
Punishments can be very helpful in telling your dog when they did something bad, but they have to understand how to do it RIGHT first! So, make sure you teach your dog what you want them to do INSTEAD first, using positive reinforcement. Once they know what to do, THEN you can use some light punishments. We recommend trying to keep a 20:1 ratio of reinforcement: punishment, but this is just a recommendation. Every dog and owner is unique, but just be aware if you’re using too much punishment if it means your dog doesn’t actually know what you want.
Dogs communicate much faster than humans are used to, and you’ll need to reward your dog for focusing on you a lot of the time. A happy, silly voice will help a lot with showing your dog that they are doing the right things and that there’s nothing to be stressed about. You may feel silly, but your dog’s happiness and good training is much more important than anything else!
It’s important to get very comfortable using praise and petting as rewards, because they are your main tool in “fading out” treats. That means using fewer treats over time so that your dog listens to you whenever you ask them to, not only when you have treats.
Basically, you will always be using “rewards”, but eventually you will use far more verbal praise than food rewards. Food treats are just easier to use at the start of teaching something new.
Luring is a very important skill in just about every command you’re going to teach your dog in basic obedience. And even most tricks start off with some basic luring. Even in regular situations every day, luring will be the best way to understand how to move your dog out of the way, off the couch, through the door, or whatever else!
Whenever teaching your dog a new behavior, or teaching a harder version of an old behavior, you must go back to using treats for every single repetition. For new behaviors, a dog will need to know that they’re doing it correctly, so a treat will be needed every time they get something right.
You don’t want to get stuck using treats forever, so start fading them out as soon as you can, but always go back to lots of treats when you change things up!
Every new behavior you teach your dog needs to start by using treats. Whether it’s a new command, more distractions, or a harder/different version of an old command. Once they know it, then you can start fading out treats little by little.
If you’re doing any “behavior modification”, you should use whatever tools, treats, management, etc. that you need to improve the behavioral problem. Once that’s done, then you can worry about fading back these tools over time. In the beginning your main concern should be getting the behavior change to be a habit, not using as few treats as possible or using less effort.
When you’re doing any kind of training, you want to be able to use higher value treats when the work gets tougher. Maybe your dog is getting bored of treats or tired. Or maybe you need more focus because of lots of distractions. In these situations you need to be able to use more interesting (higher value) treats. This won’t happen if your dog is spoiled by getting amazingly tasty treats all the time. Save the stinkiest high value treats for when you NEED them!
Rule: When possible, use the lowest value treats (like kibble!) you can get away with.
Behavior modification, for rude behaviors or fears, takes time and effort. Sometimes you don’t have the time to do training, so you should use management techniques and tools to remove your dog from difficult situations. This way they can’t repeat the bad behaviors and lose the good progress you’ve been making with training.
For example, if you want to have friends over, take the time to make sure your dog is rewarded for sitting politely, but if you don’t have the time to do that training, put your dog away as people arrive so they aren’t encouraged to jump up.
All food is made up of the same things – protein, fat, carbs, fiber, and water. The real difference between the food we eat and the food our dogs eat is how much of each is in it. Basically, you should be more afraid of your “human food” making your dog sick if it has too much fat or is actually poisonous to them. It’s also important that they don’t learn to be rude (like pawing at people or jumping up) to get this “human food”.
Really, whether the food your dog eats comes from a bag from the pet store, doesn’t really matter all that much. Meat, veggies, and other healthy foods are just as good for your dog as they are for you!
Dogs bark out of fear or for attention. If a dog is barking at you because you did something that scared them, they probably won’t come after you to bite. BUT, if you try to approach a scared dog in a way that is threatening to them (even if you think it’s friendly!), this is when dogs sometimes bite.
Just like people, dogs will defend themselves if they feel they are in danger. If you really need them to like you, take a step back and SHOW them that you aren’t a threat, by not looming over them, not making direct eye contact, and not facing them directly.
Your biggest goal with potty training is to make sure your puppy or adult dog gets reinforced for pottying outside. We want to avoid punishment as much as possible with potty training, so when they’re learning to potty, we need to keep them in the crate whenever they’re at risk for going potty. Dogs don’t like pottying in their own crate, so this will help them hold it until they go outside again.
For example, if your dog went out to potty at their scheduled time, but didn’t do anything, they need to go back in the crate for a bit because they’re probably going to potty in the house if they are able to run around freely.
Many training methods rely on using your dogs crate for management, which means that it needs to be a very positive place where they will want to spend their time. You should spend a lot of effort showing your dog that the crate is a relaxing and very nice place to go. You can do this by training with treats, feeding their meals in the crate, and giving them chews that they only get when they’re in the crate.
For example in potty training we will use the crate because your dog will automatically not want to pee in it. It really is like their own room within your house. So never use the crate as a time-out or do anything mean when they’re inside it!
This is a very important concept that comes up a lot in dog training, especially when working on problem behaviors.
If you want to change a certain behavior, you have to use both positive reinforcement to encourage a good behavior, and a little bit of punishment to discourage the bad behavior. Neither reinforcement or punishment is usually effective on their own. When we say punishment, we mean light punishments, like ignoring your dog, using a stern voice, or using a slight tug on the leash.
Teaching your dog not to jump on YOU can actually go pretty fast, but many dog owners have a lot more trouble teaching their dog not to jump up on other people.
Having a dog is all about socializing and having fun with them. Interacting with other people is an important part of that. Don’t be shy – ask for help when greeting people. Most dog lover will be very happy to help with the training! It helps to develop a “script” when you go out with your dog to tell people what to do, like:
“Yes you can totally pet him! But here’s a treat, you have to ask him to sit first.”
When you start training behaviors like jumping up, not barking, or lying down quietly while you relax, it’s very easy to forget about them once the bad behavior is mostly gone. But you must remember that your dog is trying VERY hard to be polite! Always look at your dog when they’re doing NOTHING and think “before we started training, would they have wanted to do something bad right now?”. You have to remember to reward them, even if they look like they’re not doing anything. Doing “nothing” is being polite! Reward it!
Whenever a command has multiple parts (or “criteria“) you should make the other parts easier while you work on a new part. This is why when you’re teaching a new behavior or command, it’s a good idea to do it somewhere that is quiet and not very distracting. Because teaching distractions is a separate criteria from the main parts of the command.
So for example, if you’re teaching leash-walking, work on it in the house first, then add in distractions later by going outdoors or to a public place like a mall.
Also when you add in distractions, you should make the leash walking easier by taking an easier path.
If the behavior you’re teaching is a single action, like sit or down, it should only need a single treat when your dog does it right.
But if the behavior is continuous, like stay or leash walking focus, then the treating for it should also be continuous.
Keep this rule in mind when you’re teaching a new command and your dog isn’t “getting it”. Maybe they need to be treated more often for a longer behavior!
When training your dog, many commands will start with a food lure. You’ll even use treats to “remind” your dog you have treats when they’re training around lots of distractions outside. When you want to lure or remind them about treats by, “show” them the treat by holding it in a flat hand and shoving it right up to their nose. There will be no way they can miss it and they will definitely be able to follow it.
It’s very important to begin fading out treats as soon as your dog knows how to do the behavior or command you want.
To do this, use the same hand you were luring with, but without a treat. Your dog will think there’s a treat there and follow your hand in the same way. When they do the behavior correctly, say YES and give them the treat from the other hand. This will start teaching them to not follow the treat all the time, but the hand instead.
To teach an “automatic” version of a command, warm up by practicing the command a bunch of times. After a while you may find that your dog does the command on their own “by accident”. If you reward them for doing the command without being told to, they will do it like that more often!
“Automatic” commands can be very good, like sitting to get attention. They can also be really annoying, like when we “accidentally” teach our dogs to bark for attention by rewarding them with attention when they do it.
You must pay close attention to where and when you are rewarding your dog with treats and praise. Wherever your dog knows they should be when treats come, is where they will want to “hang out” whenever they can. We can actually use this to our advantage in leash walking, crate training, and lots of other commands!
For example, when training leash-walking, you should use the same hand for treats on the side of your dog, because if you give them treats in front of you, they will want to cross in front of you when walking.
Whenever you are using both positive reinforcement and light corrections (like in leash walking!), it’s very important to wait 5-10 seconds after any correction before giving a reward for the right behavior.
Think of it like this: if your dog does something bad (like pull you on the leash), then gets a correction (like luring them back to your side), and then a treat immediately, what are they learning? That’s right, they learn to pull you again! Instead do this:
wait 5-10 seconds after a correction to reward
this rewards for the 5-10 seconds of GOOD behavior, instead of rewarding immediately, which rewards the BAD behavior.
Since dogs don’t understand human languages, you should avoid repeating commands like “sit”, “leave it” or “stay” many times in a row. Your dog will just learn that this is the way the command is supposed to sound.
For example, they’ll think the command is “SitSitSit” instead of just “sit”. So when you’re training, just say the command one time and wait for them to do it. If they don’t get it after 5 or more seconds, then you can try again.
Even the friendliest dogs will defend themselves if they feel like they need to. Similar to humans, if you felt someone was a threat and you were cornered, you would fight back! Your dog is the same. Scared dogs will usually have 2 options:
It’s a good idea to help your dog learn that most things are not threatening, but you should also learn to recognize when a dog is scared of you. Never put a dog, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, in an uncomfortable situation where they feel they need to defend themselves.
Sitting is a very common way to teach dogs to politely ask for things. The reason we want to teach dogs to sit is that they can’t sit and jump up at the same time! Sitting and jumping up are “incompatible behaviors” because a dog can’t do them both at the same time.
So this is how we teach dogs to be polite – by sitting! When a dog really wants something and they’re sitting instead of jumping on you or pawing, you know it means they’re trying really hard to be polite!
Recalls are so important that they should be second nature for your dog. The big problem that many people have is only using recalls when they are going to do something their dog doesn’t like. If your dog knows that you only call them over when you’re leaving the park, going home, or they did something bad – then they’ll never want to do it!
To avoid this, make sure you do lots of recalls all the time for no reason so your dog can build up the habit of coming over to you all the time! Aim to do 20-50 recalls every time you go out for a walk or to the park with your dog.
When you’re training outside, distractions will be the biggest obstacle to overcome. When your dog gets too distracted, the best approach is to stop for a moment to get control of the situation
Think of it like this: If there’s a lot of activity around your dog, and then your dog is moving too…everything is moving twice as much! Stopping in place will allow your dog to get focused before moving on.
When stopped to get your dogs attention, do some “leave-it” commands, or some sits and reward them for focusing on you. After you’ve focused up for a few minutes, then continue with the rest of the walk.
When practicing a new command, you want to aim for a success rate of 3/5 (60%) or 4/5 (80%). If your dog gets everything right all the time, or 5/5 (100%), then that level is too easy and you can move to the next step.
BUT, only getting it right 1/5 (20%) or 2/5 (40%) means that it’s too tough, or you need to explain more clearly what you want.
If your dog fails something 2 times in a row, it means that this command is too tough right now. So 2 fails in a row means you have to make it a bit easier!
Most commands will have a beginning and an end – commands like stay, wait, or maybe even leave-it. Your dog needs to know when they are done with the command when you give them the “OK” release word. If they don’t know that you’ll release them eventually, they may decide on their own when to be done, and that’s not good! Make sure to “book-end” commands – so always have “stay” then “OK”. Always have “wait” then “OK”, and so on…
Dogs have a very bad sense of time and so they need to have communication from other dogs or people very quickly. If you don’t reward your dog immediately after they do something good (especially when it’s something new), they may lose focus or think they did it wrong. Make sure you’re communicating as fast as they are!
When training things like leash walking, there are only 3 places you should be holding the treats:
Holding the treat anywhere else, like a few inches above their face, will cause them to want to jump up at it!
In dog training, we want dogs to be more “confident” because it means that they are not afraid of new things. Dogs that are less fearful are healthier, happier, and less likely to bite out of fear.
We can do this by training dogs to do things that a confident dog would do, until they start to do them on their own. Basically it’s “fake it til you make it”!
For example, you could teach your dog to go up to new people and then reward them for it. Or teach them to approach strange new objects and reward them for that too. Eventually they will do these things without your having to ask them to. When your dog is going up to check out new things on their own, that’s the look of confidence!
When training your dog, and even with everyday living, you have to think like they do, which is moment-to-moment. When your dog does something bad, you have to stop doing everything “good” and rewarding that you’re doing. If you don’t, this tells your dog that everything tat is happening is OK, including their bad behavior. Doing this is not confusing to them at all! In fact, getting upset sometimes, and happy other times, would actually be more confusing.
So for example, if you’re playing with your dog and they start mouthing on you too hard, you must stop playing! If you don’t, you’re pretty much telling them that the rough mouthing is OK.