Training your dog can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re new to pet parenthood. Rest assured that whether you’re a first-time dog-owner or an experienced one, obedience training requires the same basic ingredients: patience, diligence, and consistency.
Taking your dog to obedience school can be a wonderful experience. For times when classes led by a pro are not in your budget, a DIY-approach can be a fun (and effective) alternative. Get started with these seven easy steps.
1. Get Advice From Your Vet
Before you start your obedience-training adventures, speak with a veterinarian who has treated your dog. The vet may have breed-specific advice for how to get your dog to obey. If your dog comes from a rescue facility, has a health condition, or has anxiety, your approach to obedience training may need to differ from the norm. Make sure you get your facts from an expert before you get started on the next step.
2. Invest in the Right Equipment
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be your dog’s trainer. But you do have to start with the right stuff. Your dog training toolkit should include:
A short leash. Training on a short leash (four feet or less) to instill polite behavior while walking your dog will make both of your lives a lot easier. After you master the basics, you can move on to more advanced training on a longer leash.
Small, healthy dog treats. These can be anything from a cheese stick cut into small pieces to cereal-sized snacks designed for training. Remember, your goal is to use small, easily digestible treats that won’t fill your dog up or make them sluggish before you are done with your obedience training sessions.
At least one active/engagement reward. A game of tug-of-war, a few rounds of fetch, or a chew toy filled with peanut butter are all activity-based rewards you can give your dog after a good training session.
3. Begin With Basic Commands
While you may be eager to show off just how smart your best buddy is, save the fancy stuff for later. “Come,” “Sit,” “Heel,” and “Stay” are four of the most basic commands for training your dog to obey. These terms are great building blocks for a common language that both you and your dog can understand.
The “Come” command is a perfect starting place, for two reasons. Once your dog understands how to come to you on demand, playing outside and spending time off-leash becomes so much safer for your dog. Second, your dog probably comes up to greet you naturally lots of times during the span of a day, so he or she might not need too much convincing.
Next time your dog comes bounding up to you, act like it was your idea. Say their name, wait a beat, and say the word “Come!” Give your pup a treat for “responding,” take a step backward, and repeat the command to see if they will repeat the behavior. Most likely, it won’t take long for your dog to realize that obedience equals reward. Focus on mastering one command at a time to prevent confusion.
Once your dog understands the concept of obedience, teaching additional commands will get a lot easier! To begin to teach your dog to “sit,” say the command before you physically maneuver your dog into a sitting position. Give them a treat for their “obedience,” and try to see if you can get them to repeat the behavior.
To teach your pup (or mature dog) to heel, use small treats as an enticement to follow close by your side. Move from one side of a small room to the other with your dog following by your hand, repeating the “Heel!” command followed by your dog’s name. When you reach your destination, ask your dog to “Sit!” and let them have that tasty treat. Repeat the process until your dog gets the message.
4. Be Clear Who Is in Charge
In the animal kingdom, dogs communicate with each other using the language of dominance. That doesn’t mean shaming, punishing, or trying to physically dominate your dog during your obedience training. Negative reinforcement never works to train puppies or adult dogs, and can result in anxious or destructive behaviors.
Instead, look your dog in the eye when you give a command. Don’t break eye contact until the command is followed. Other small psychological symbols of power can include initiating a family walk as a “pack” each day, eating before you let your dog eat, maintaining a height advantage when you give commands (never kneeling down to ground level when obedience training), and putting your dog behind you when you walk up a staircase or through a narrow hallway.
5. Stay Consistent
It can be tempting to break off an obedience training session to chase and play with your puppy instead. But that sends the message that obedience training isn’t something important. Remember that your dog is taking its cues from you, and if you take this seriously, so will they. Try to train your dog through 15 minute increments twice per day, and aim to make training sessions at the same time of day as part of the daily routine.
6. Use Positive Reinforcement
Obedience-training is a process, but it isn’t forever. The point of it is to strengthen your relationship with your dog and develop clear communication that crosses the pet and pet owner divide. Positive reinforcement will help your dog feel like you’re having fun together, and could help your dog progress more quickly.
Offer small, healthy treats throughout training sessions to reward your dog for paying attention. At the end of sessions, spend time in free play, engaging in fetch or tug-of-war. When your dog reaches milestones, like mastering a new command or completing an entire walk without pulling on the leash once, offer a special treat or a new toy.
7. Dog-Proof Your Home and Yard
Like any new skill, obedience training comes with a bit of a learning curve. You don’t have to compromise having a beautifully decorated home and a lush, healthy lawn during the obedience training process.
What you can do is a bit of doggy-proofing in the meantime. Put shoes, purses, and other personal items out of your dog’s reach whenever your pup is spending time solo. Roll up rugs and move throw blankets and pillows that can become the targets of nervous energy, like clawing and chewing, until your dog understands your expectations.
Standard commands like teaching your dog to sit, heel, and lie down may take a few weeks. But once your favorite fluffy bestie has nailed the basics, new cues will get easier to introduce. And even if it takes a while, it’s worth it to stick with obedience training-- the first time your dog obeys you without any coaxing, you’ll feel like the Dog Whisperer himself.