There is nothing more aggravating than having that neighbor dog that barks at every single sound, seems to always find it’s way out of the house, bites and nibbles on different body parts of others, or is constantly jumping up on you with muddy paws. When we get our little puppies, we make ourselves promises that we will teach them to be well-behaved, that we will make time to take them places to acclimate them with the outside world, that we will make sure they get the best life they possibly can. We have dreams of taking them on long hikes, of going on adventures, on letting them go meet other dogs and play; we have dreams of them being a huge part of our life that we can share with the world. But it’s no secret that life often gets in the way of this. We get caught-up in school or work, we forget to make time to train them.
More so, most people aren’t entirely sure how to train a dog.
Just getting your dog to not do it’s business in the house can be a major struggle for some owners. While there are tons of resources online in terms of proper dog training, a lot of the advice given is conflicting and unclear. The truth is, every dog is different. Dogs, like children, have different personalities, different habits, and different ways of learning that vary from each individual dog to the next. Different breeds also have different intelligence levels, natural habits, energy levels, and different capacities for learning. All these variables can make training a dog extremely frustrating for new owners and often leaves us frustrated.
In training my little miniature Australian Shepherd, named Apollo because he is my little sun god, I found that the books and resources were a great place to start, but there are some things that owners must consider in order to properly train their dog. Most resources give the same basic advice, but do not allow room for owners to truly understand why the things they are or aren’t doing are impacting their ability to properly train their little pooch. Also, most of those references talk about teaching dog tricks rather than teaching them behaviors.
Because of this I have compiled some basic tips and tricks that I havelearned throughout the two years of behavior training my dog in hopes that it will help other owners train their own.
But first, let me tell you a little about my experience:
This is Apollo. He’s a red-tri, miniature Australian Shepherd, weighing only 20 pounds. He is two years old now (how time flies) and is honestly a really well-trained dog. This in part is due to his inherit personality, but also some tricks I have found in dog training have really helped me along the way.
Miniature Australian Shepherds are “easygoing, perpetual puppies that love to play…[they are] loyal and affectionate…they are eager to please…they are [also] highly intelligent” according to dogbreedinfo.com. In knowing that my dog has a lot of energy and is also typically highly intelligent, it creates some benefits and downfalls. For one, he likes to train because he likes to make me happy, but because he is smart and hyper, it also means that he can easily become destructive. His breed is typically seen in agility and disc competitions, they are fairly easy to train, in theory.
I say in theory because my dad owns Apollo’s brother, Cristos (he is from the same mom and dad but from a different litter). Cristos, unlike my little Apollo, is stubborn and hardheaded. He is incredibly hard to train, not meaning that he isn’t smart, just that he has a completely different personality than Apollo. Apollo is gentle and kind, he is cautious and is always wanting to stay by me. Cristos, on the other hand, is a storm on paws: he is a jumper, a runner, and fearless. Apollo was potty trained pretty much as soon as he was brought home, Cristos had more issue with the potty training part. Apollo knows tons of weird tricks, Cristos is only a year old so he is still learning but is definitely having a harder time than Apollo did.
The reason I bring these two up is to show how even though they are from the same parents, training Apollo and Cristos is completely different.
Having the experience of training these two has given me a lot of insight on what owners need to consider before trying to train their dogs. The old saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” is not true. Dogs can be trained at any age, so if you pup is older, you still have the ability to train them.
So here is what I have found to be beneficial in behavior training a dog.
Keep in mind these are general guidelines from my personal experience with a specific breed and personality of dog and therefore you should adapt your training to fit your pooch.
Before getting your puppy:
Understand your dog’s breed or breeds
This means get to know the breed’s habits (for Apollo it was nipping at heels since he is a herding dog by nature), what activities the dogs are known for doing (are they known for being great for agility training, disc throwing, herding, rodent finding, etc.), what the breed’s energy-level and intelligence-level is, what their typical personality traits are. Things of that nature.
Have a clear picture of what kind of lifestyle you will be living with your dog
Are you going to be living in a big house with the dog for it’s entire life? Are you looking for a dog that can live comfortably in an apartment? What kind of lifestyle do you live? Are you active or a lounger? Are you one to go on hikes or are you one to go for walks around the area? Do you have big spaces to play with your pup alone or are you going to be taking them to a dog park?
Find a dog breed that matches your lifestyle
This is super important. Since you are your dog’s entire life, you need to make sure you get a dog that is going to fit well into your’s. If you are going to be living in an apartment, make sure you get a dog that can comfortably live in a smaller living space. If you are living alone, make sure you get a dog that can handle being alone for big portions of the day.
Once you bring that little bundle of floof home:
Create expectations and boundaries from day one
When you bring your new pup home, it is learning a new environment meaning that they are going to be pushing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do. From day one you should have a clear idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior wise. If you don’t want your dog to jump, make that clear from the beginning. If you don’t want your dog to sit on the couch, don’t let your dog ever sit on the couch. If you don’t want your dog to be in your face begging while you eat, make sure they know that they can’t beg.
Really take the time to get to know your dog
This seems pretty standard, but it really is the most important part of being able to properly train a dog. This means spend time playing, watch how they interact with other people and other dogs, figure out what their bad habits are as well as what their traits are. Is your dog scared of loud noises and heights to the point of skittishness or is your dog fearless to the point of recklessness? Are they cuddling dogs who enjoy physical affection or do they prefer to run and play?
Understand what dogs see as rewards
This is also pretty basic, but a lot of people fail to understand what dogs see as rewards for behavior. Rewards for dogs include: playing, affection, food, treats, toys, and going outside. Anything your dog likes to do is seen as a reward.
Figure out what motivates your dog specifically and use those as rewards
I like to find the top three things that motivate a dog. For Apollo, it is treats, food, and playing; in that order. When training, use these top three things they enjoy as your main rewards. Bigger accomplishments should receive a bigger reward. A good place to start for rewards, however, is food. Avoid using a lot of treats as rewards, instead use kibble since it will keep them from gaining unnecessary weight. For learning tricks, I always started with food, giving a treat once they complete the task to perfection. For reinforcement, I used playing as a reward.
Always have some kind of reward nearby if you are spending time with your dog. A little bag of dog food is a nice easy way to make sure you always have something on hand.
Be consistent regardless of where you are and what is happening around you
You are constantly training your dog. That means whether you are inside or outside, your dog is going to be seeing how much they can get away with. Think of them as little five year old humans.
Use positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is rewarding a dog for good behavior while negative reinforcement is punishing a dog for bad behavior. The reason you don’t want to punish your dog is because it can make your dog more aggressive and less likely to listen.
Do not ever hit your dogmore than a stiff pop on the nose and only use it for when your pup is the worst thing they can possibly do (I only ever used a snoot boop on Apollo when he ate power cords because it was extremely dangerous for him to do so). Also, don’t lock your dog up for bad behavior. If you are crate training your dog, you want the kennel to be a safe place, not a place of punishment. Instead, you can use a time-out bed (much like you use a time-out corner with children).
If your dog bites you too hard while playing or is a nibbler, make a yelping sound like a puppy. They instinctively know that a yelp is a sound of pain. You want to talk to your dog in a way they understand, meaning if your dog goes potty in the house, don’t rub their nose in it, just take them outside and bring treats so if they go potty you can give them a little reward. If your dog chews anything and everything, tell them no sternly and then give them something they can chew on while rewarding them with pets for their good behavior.
You shouldn’t yell at your dog for doing something if you did not find them doing it. If your dog goes potty in the house, do not punish them once you find it. If they are chewing things, do not punish them once you see it. The only way dogs understand what changes in behavior we want from them is when they have a direct correlation. So only try to manipulate behaviors when you see them doing it.
These are all general behavior training tools. Hopefully these tips will lead you towards a full life with your best friend 🙂