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The best way to train your dog

Updated on October 7, 2013
This is Bailey, my Border Collie.
This is Bailey, my Border Collie.

Finding the "right" way to train your dog

If you try searching Google for the right way to train your dog, you will find millions of articles and videos that claim to tell you the "correct way". I know there are many, many "correct" ways of training my dogs but what I find works best and for me is the "correct" way for me is to use the technique that gets me to the goal I am looking to reach.

I always end up training "my way". The reason is; I know how my dogs think, I know how they react to different situations, I know what they have already learned, and I know what motivates them most.

I find that if you pay attention to what others are telling you as the 'right' way to train, you end up confused, both you and your dog. Of course if you are stuck it's okay to ask. But don't take it as gospel. Be led, take direction, but be critical of your own methods and thinking. Take the approach that inspires you to try it your way. If it doesn't work, your dog will let you know and that will be your cue to try it a different way.

Training your way

There is only one rule when training your way. It has to be fun for both you and your dog. That means, no intimidation, no physical corrections, nothing in any way that is going to put fear or doubt in your dogs mind. And one other thing, you should always have a positive attitude. If you get frustrated or angry, stop and walk away. Nothing is ever achieved by having a frustrated or angry mindset. That is my rule. And it should be yours too. I am not promoting any one particular method of training, what I am saying is that you probably already have the skills to do it your own way, the problem is that you may not have confidence that your method is the "right" way.

Don't worry, everyone who starts training feels this way. The way to get confidence is with trial and error. And put trust in your dog. Your dog will be able to tell you if your method is working or not. If you pay attention you will see signs in your dog that tell you if it is working and if it isn't working. Always be on the look out for your dogs communication. If he walks away, you aren't as interesting as the environment, if you keep doing the same thing over and over and he isn't getting it, don't worry, just change your tactics.

You have to try it first

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High-Five is a fun trick to teach.
High-Five is a fun trick to teach.

Look out for the signs

Here is my top 10 list of signals your dog will give you that indicate how they are responding to your training.

  1. Your dog seems receptive to you: If your dog is sitting, watching or attentive to your training this is a great sign that you are on the right track.
  2. Your dog walks off while you are trying to teach something: A bad sign, this means that you are not as interesting as something else in your yard. Time to step it up, get higher value treats and take a different, fun and energising strategy.
  3. Your dog picks up the trick in minutes: Well this clearly means that your method works, keep it up.
  4. Your dog seems attentive but doesn't understand what I am teaching: This could mean that you are trying to teach a trick that is harder for your dog to understand, if they remain attentive you just need more patience. Even "shake hands" can be a tough trick for your dog, so as long as they remain interested you should persist for a bit longer and look for signs of progress.
  5. Your dog offers a known behaviour instead of the one you are teaching: Commonly your dog will offer a trick that they already know to get a treat, they already know that an old trick rewarded them with treats, so they will try it again. If they know that trick well don't offer a treat for it when you are teaching something else. Once they realise it isn't working they will try something else. Only reward for the behaviour that you are teaching, even if it is only small steps.
  6. Your dog only understands a little of what you are saying: When you are teaching a trick like "beg" (or "sit pretty") your dog may offer a single paw raise, at the start of training this is a good sign that they are beginning to understand what you are teaching, reward them for small steps in the right direction, no matter how small they seem to you, that is a big deal for them.
  7. Your dog seems fearful of you: Usually this means you are getting frustrated and rushing them through the trick, this is detrimental to both the training and your relationship with your dog. Keep calm, keep your frustrations in check, if you can't then take a break and try again tomorrow. Training is a FUN experience, you and your dog need to find the fun in the training, if it's only fun for one of you, that means that you are only 50% effective. Make it fun and let your dog know that training is the best interaction you can have... Apart from cuddles ;)
  8. You think your dog isn't getting it: Just because it doesn't happen right away, doesn't mean it won't happen at all. Your dog takes in new information differently than you do. And as your dog can't see things from your perspective, it is up to you to see things from theirs. It's often good to take a look at what you are doing from your dogs perspective, look to see if someone who doesn't speak your language was trying to teach it to you, would you understand the words, gestures and rewards?
  9. Your dog learns things that you don't want them to learn: Like chasing lizards, digging holes, barking, jumping... the list goes on. Your dog learns, though one method or another, that those behaviours are fun and rewarding. Many of them are self rewarding, meaning that the act of the behaviour rewards the dog. Digging a hole to find a bone for example, the bone is the reward for digging, so they will try it again. Another example is barking, they bark you come out and pay attention to them, you may be mad for them barking, but they got a reward, you were there and they were happy. This also means your dog is smart and capable of learning new things easily. Take that as an opportunity to teach them the correct ways to perform the behaviours you would otherwise find less than desirable.
  10. Your dog loves to learn: You will know very quickly if your dog loves to learn. Think about when you were at school, some students loved to learn new things, and others preferred to muck-about. Dogs are similar, you have your A students and your D students, often the strategy to teach those different students varies.

A Student or D Student

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Don't for get to play. Training is learning, but play is play.
Don't for get to play. Training is learning, but play is play.

Final Thoughts

Dog owners should be encouraged to spend as much time having fun, and challenging experiences with their dogs as much as possible. If your training is fun for both you and your dog, you are more likely to do it more often. It isn't a chore, it's a bonding experience as well as a learning experience. Just like spending time with family.

Your dog will thank you with love, loyalty and above all, a greater understanding and communication between you both. A dog isn't just a pet, they are far more emotive, responsive and caring than you know, and they have wants and needs just like you. Take the time and fulfil their goals together.

101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog
101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog

A great book for inspiration on new dog tricks. Number 1 best seller.



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    • Eric Prado profile image

      Eric Prado 4 years ago from Webster, Texas

      This hub has been most helpful. Voted up. Good stuff here.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 4 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Training a pup can be so much fun for both... pup and person. Really great hub. marked up, useful and interesting. I'll be looking for more hubs by you.

      regards Zsuzsy

    • corbin21 profile image

      Iain 4 years ago from Melbourne

      Thanks alexadry, I'm looking forward to many more posts. Dog training is one of my greatest passions. Writing about it and bringing my experience to everyone is a great reward.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Loved this article, welcome to hubpages!