Village Vets Australia

7 Tips for Training Your Dog

There are so many different training methods, and so much conflicting advice regarding dog training. Here Dr Anthony Bennett and Dr James Carroll of Village Vets Australia, share 7 tips recommended for training your dog.

Having a well-trained and socialised dog can make your life – and your dog’s life – much easier and enjoyable. In fact, behavioural problems are the most common reason that dogs surrendered at the RSPCA are euthanized. This is why ongoing training of your dog throughout his or her life is so important. 

Follow these seven top tips recommended for training your dog.

1. Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement, that is using treats or play as a reward, is the mainstay of dog training. Training a dog is basically using positive reinforcement to get them to repeat desirable behaviours. Studies have shown that it's more effective to use positive reinforcement to get a dog to do a desired behaviour than punishing them (negative reinforcement) for an undesirable one. Also it’s much nicer for you and the dog if you’re not punishing them all the time! We recommend using liver treats, but bits of torn up chicken breast, or even play can be given as a reward when your dog does the right thing. Remember to reward little and often. Clicker training is another great option to consider. Ask your local trainer or veterinarian for more information, or visit the website www.clickertraining.com

2. Start young

Puppies are the most sensitive to socialisation from 3–12 weeks, however the socialisation window is variably thought to extend to up to 16-20 weeks of age. This is the best time to socialise your puppies with other puppies and dogs, other species, and strangers and children. It’s also important during this time to familiarise them with different surfaces, different situations, and noises that could be considered scary like vacuum cleaners or the doorbell. This is why puppy preschool is probably the best thing you can do for your puppy! Remember that your puppy has an underdeveloped immune system when they are little, so only expose them to dogs and puppies that are vaccinated, and don’t go to places like busy dog parks where they might pick up diseases from other dogs until your puppy has had at least two core vaccinations. Ask your vet for advice and ensure you get your puppy vaccinated as early as possible to allow this valuable socialisation window to be utilised.

3. Crate training

Crate training is like giving your dog their own room. The crate should be a safe and happy place for your dog. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, and it should have your dog’s favourite bed and toys in there. The best way to train your dog to love their crate is to feed them in there! Never put your dog in their crate to punish them. There are many benefits to crate training. It helps with toilet training, it’s like a security blanket for your dog and it makes dogs much more comfortable in a cage if they ever have to stay at a veterinarian or kennel. It's also great if you travel as you can take your dog’s room with you. There’s lots of information around about crate training, but the best person to ask is your local veterinarian if you’d like to know more.

4. Do some training every day

Just like we go to work or school each day, your dog needs training every day. This might be just to reinforce what he or she already knows, or even teaching new tricks (old dogs can learn new tricks too)! There are countless suggestions on the internet for tricks you can teach your dog, so really the sky is the limit. We recommend doing some training each day for approximately 10-15 minutes in five minute blocks interspersed with play. It's important not to loose your dog’s attention when training so keep the sessions short and always finish on a good note. Not only will this help to stimulate your dog mentally, but it will be valuable bonding time for you and your dog, and will help reinforce desired behaviours. There are instructions on teaching your dog to “STAY” at the end of this article, give it a go!

5. Sit = please!

Your dog should think of the “sit” command as meaning “please”. One of the most common problems we see is dogs jumping up on their owners for food or attention. You should teach your dog that they won’t get what they want, whether that’s their dinner or you throwing a ball, until they sit. If your dog jumps on you for attention, then you should patiently ignore the jumping, asking your dog to sit. Once your dog sits, go ahead and give it attention. This is a form of positive reinforcement! That is, when your dog does a behaviour (sitting), you give them a reward (food/play/attention). This also reinforces a mutually exclusive behaviour as your dog cannot both jump on you and sit at the same time.

6. Environmental enrichment

Bored dogs are often naughty dogs. Be sure that your dog is getting as much environmental enrichment as possible. Imagine if you had to sit in your backyard all the time and only got one 10 minute walk around the block each day! Walking your dog daily, and allowing them to sniff the ground, explore and greet other dogs and people is a great start. Doggie play dates throughout the week are great too. Some people will organise these weekly with friends, or there are even doggie day care centres where your dog can go during the day to socialise. A range of toys, rotated on a regular basis are also great for dogs who are left alone a lot. We recommend Kongs, tug and chew toys but really the options are endless! Just make sure that they are safe for chewing, and are not a hazard if swallowed.

7. Teaching your dog to “STAY”

Have your dog sit, and then reward for sitting. Then say “stay”. Wait six seconds, and then say “release” and when your dog comes to you then treat. You might have to show your dog the treat at first so that they are focused on something while “staying”. Try it again, this time say “sit”, “stay” and then wait 10 seconds. Then say “release”, and give a treat. Repeat this four or five times per training session. Practice this each day, gradually building up to several minutes before releasing your dog. As for any new trick, make sure you train in a familiar environment without too many distractions like your backyard. Once mastered at home then begin the process again in a public place.

We hope these tips have been helpful for you. If you want more information or your dog has a behavioural problem it’s best to seek an expert opinion, such as that of your local veterinarian, dog trainer or specialist veterinary behaviourist. 

The second series of Village Vets airs every Thursday night at 8.30pm on The LifeStyle Channel.

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