- Basic commands go a long way — Introductory cues like “sit” and “come” will help lay the groundwork for more advanced training down the line.
- Training should start inside the home — Whether you’re teaching your dog to stop begging or get used to wearing a leash, your home offers a comfortable training environment with minimal distractions.
- Start socializing early — Exposing your dog to people and other pets via early socialization can help curb behavioral problems, instill confidence, and make travel easier.
When you consider the thousands of years of animal instincts and behaviors rooted in every dog, the idea of training them to fit into your domestic home environment can seem pretty daunting. But rest assured that training can be a fun and rewarding experience for not only your four-legged friend but you and your family as well. That said, patience and consistency are key when it comes to curbing unwanted behaviors.
Whether you have experience training dogs or you’re a newbie tired of chewed-up slippers, following these steps will set your pooch up for success and strengthen your bond with them.
7 tips for getting started with dog training
With the seemingly endless dog training methods and resources out there, you may be frantically asking yourself, “Where do I begin?” As you embark on this journey with your favorite furball, keep these considerations and resources in mind.
1. Start as soon as possible. Dogs are considered particularly receptive to training when they’re puppies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train adult dogs too. Working on basic obedience training and commands as soon as you bring a new dog into your home is a great way to establish a strong foundation for a relationship built on trust and understanding.
2. Puppy-proof your home. Crates, gates, pens, and toys are all handy when it comes to preventing mischief from your pup between training sessions. Remember that the more your dog engages in destructive behaviors, the harder these habits are to break. Puzzle games and safe chew toys can mentally stimulate your dog while you’re unable to tend to them, and enclosed areas keep them from getting into mischief.
3. Stock up on high-value treats. A tasty treat is the perfect tool for an owner looking to impart good behavior patterns to their pooch. High-value treats can include safe “people foods” like cheese, peanut butter, and chicken, as well as homemade treats or pungent store-bought soft chews. If your dog is picky or has a sensitive stomach, you may have to experiment a bit until you find a food that motivates them in training without getting them sick.
4. Do your research. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already begun this process, but there are a ton of online and offline resources for dog owners to learn the basic (and not-so-basic) steps toward building your pup’s confidence and understanding essential commands.
In the video below, renowned trainer Zak George lets you sit in on a group dog training session where he covers clicker training, communication tools, and tips for working with a high-energy dog.
5. Consider working with a dog trainer. If you have never trained a dog before, working in-person or virtually with a reputable trainer can help equip you with the tools you need to proceed with training on your own. Be sure to do your research ahead of time to ensure the trainer has proper certification and doesn’t use harmful techniques.
6. Schedule regular training sessions. Whether you’re training your dog on your own or working with a professional, consistency is important. Putting together a schedule with set times you’re going to train each day ensures your dog is learning. Remember that puppies have a shorter attention span than older dogs, so you will need to keep initial sessions brief.
7. Use positive reinforcement training. Though “dominance theory” was once a staple of dog training, this misguided mindset has long been debunked. Behaviorists now believe positive reinforcement and reward are the best ways to curb dog aggression, as opposed to punishment and fear-based tactics.
Basic canine commands
Every pet parent should know the classic dog commands like sit, stay, come, and lie down. It should go without saying that puppies, like humans, aren’t born with a built-in understanding of the English language. Teaching them these words and the expected actions when you vocalize them will lay the groundwork for strong communication between you and your best friend.
The “sit” command is typically the first cue that owners try to teach their dogs. That’s because this 3-letter word can come in handy with even the most advanced training methods down the line. For example, if your dog is triggered by approaching strangers or other pets, putting them in a “sit” gives them a task to perform that distracts them from their trigger.
Speaking of recall, you’re not going to be able to trust your dog off-leash until they’ve proven a willingness to come to you when you call them over. The “come” command is also useful in bringing your dog in from the yard or finding them around the house. In order to develop a positive association with this vocal cue, use it when summoning your dog for rewarding activities like playtime and feeding.
If your dog knows the “sit” command, they’re halfway to learning the “lie down” command (and one-third of the way to learning “roll over”). This cue provides many benefits to owners, like teaching their canine pals to settle. It can also be used in conjunction with the “stay” command to encourage your dog to relax and rest while you keep them in one spot.
Leave it / drop it
Whether you’re home or on a walk, dogs constantly pick up things they shouldn’t with their mouths. Keep in mind though that the “drop it” command should only be used as a last resort to prevent your dog from ingesting something harmful after a “leave it” command has failed. If you rely exclusively on “drop it,” you are teaching your dog they’ll get rewarded for picking up objects and dropping them, as opposed to not picking them up to begin with. That’s where a strong “leave it” cue comes in handy when you see your dog going for something they shouldn’t.
House training your dog
Your puppy can’t rely on pee pads forever. In the same way you teach your kids to use the toilet, you need to teach your dog to go outside. Cleaning waste off the floor isn’t one of the more glamorous aspects of having a pet, so it’s no surprise that new owners tend to start with housebreaking. As with all other training, patience is required. It is a dog’s natural instinct to go wherever and whenever they want, so it will take some time to teach them otherwise.
Puppies need to do their business frequently, so the more potty breaks you incorporate into your day, the fewer accidents you’ll have to deal with. Once outside, encourage them to relieve themselves in a designated spot in the yard or sidewalk so they see it as their “bathroom,” so to speak.
Be sure to reward them for going outside with a treat and praise. If they go inside, you obviously don’t want to praise them but you shouldn’t punish them either, as it will only instill a fear of going one or two.
Crate training your dog
Using a crate can be extremely beneficial when it comes to not only house training, but traveling with your pup as well. Dogs instinctively won’t relieve themselves where they sleep, so if you crate your dog at night and when you leave them alone, you are encouraging them to hold in their bladder until you take them out.
Rest assured that crating your dog is not cruel. As long as it’s the proper size and you add in soft blankets or comfy dog beds, the crate can be a safe space for your furever friend to relax and destress. Help your dog get comfortable with it by giving them treats in the crate and throwing the ball inside when you play fetch. Over time, you may even start to see them going into their crate on their own when you leave the door open. Never use the crate for discipline, as this will only create fear of a place that should feel safe.
Leash and harness dog training
In addition to being a legal requirement in most areas, leashing your dog can keep them safe and out of trouble. Here’s how you can prepare your pup to wear walking gear.
How to leash train your dog
Start training your dog to wear a leash by having them wear it inside the house while you’re playing with them and during feeding time. This will not only give them a positive association with it but make it seem less jarring when they’re wearing it outside the home.
So what about when you are out and about? The goal should be to keep your dog close to you with a loose leash rather than pulling ahead on a tight lead. At first, give your dog a steady stream of high-value treats by your side, then gradually increase the distance between treats over time until your pup is just naturally walking beside you.
Finding the right leash for your four-legged friend may require a bit of trial and error. You’ll have to consider the types of walks you’re going on and the environment in which you are walking them.
- Standard nylon leash. The most common leashes are 6 feet long with a loop handle. Not only is the standard nylon leash easy to clean, but it tends to pair easily with other dog walking gear such as harnesses or head halters.
- Leather leash. In addition to being one of the more stylish leash options, leather is a sturdy material that’s soft on the walker’s hands. Owners will need to beware of their dog chewing on the leather, which would warrant a trip to the vet if they swallow chunks of it.
- Bungee leash. Using a leash with a stretchy bungee cord can prove beneficial for owners looking to give their dogs more fluid movement without strain on their necks or bodies if they lunge ahead a little too quickly. While a bungee leash can make sudden pulling more comfortable, it won’t help prevent it.
- Hands-free leashes. If you like to bring your dog along for a run or need less strain on your arms and wrists, a hand-free leash can keep your dog tethered to your waist while keeping your hands, well, free. This type of leash can be dangerous to use if you have a dog that pulls or suddenly takes off after squirrels and other critters.
- Long leashes. If you’re not ready to let your dog off-leash, a long leash can be beneficial for recall training. Typical long leashes are 30 feet, but there are options out there that stretch as far as 200! Just be ready to reign your dog in if they get into something they shouldn’t.
- Double leash. Got more than one dog? Then you’ll need more than one leash. While convenient, owners should exercise caution using double leashes with dogs that aren’t properly leash trained as it will be difficult to control them if they start heading in different directions
How to harness train your dog
Once you’ve settled on a leash, there’s the question of what exactly you’re attaching your dog’s leash to. While dog collars are vital for ID and vaccination tags, they can be irritating (and sometimes even harmful) when used for leashing purposes. This is especially true for dogs that pull, as the collar can cause strain on their throats and result in damage to the thyroid glands, along with other breathing problems. That’s where dog harnesses come in.
To introduce your dog to a harness for the first time, hold it up between your dog and a treat so they have to stick their head through the hole to get it. Repeat this several times until they learn that “harness = treat.” Likewise, give them treats after you attach each buckle on the harness.
👉 If your dog is continuing to pull after you’ve consistently worked on leash training with them, consider using a front-clip harness that causes their body to pivot towards you when they pull.
|Vaccinate your dog so you can take them to parks and group classes.||Take your dog to parks or group classes if they haven’t been vaccinated.|
|Introduce your dog to another pet on neutral territory.||Introduce your dog to another pet in your home or their home.|
|Supervise all interactions between your dog and other pets/people.||Leave your dog alone or unattended with other people/pets until they’ve been socialized.|
|Read your dog’s body language for cues they’re getting anxious or angry, and break up fights between animals.||Confuse fighting with playing or allow animals to just “fight it out.”|
|Keep socialization sessions short, especially if your dog is losing interest in the pet/person they’re socializing with.||Force your dog to keep playing with a pet/person they don’t want to.|
Proofing and generalizing in dog training
Training your dog for the world outside the home starts inside the home. The work you do with your pup in their home environment can give them the skills to handle more stressful or exciting settings, so long as you continue training in those surroundings.
What’s generalizing and why is it important?
The term “generalizing” in the context of dog training refers to behaviors or commands that are taught at home with minimal distractions. Dogs, especially puppies, have short attention spans, and even the most high-value of treats might not be enough to earn their focus if there are people, pets, cars, trains, planes, etc. whizzing by.
Bringing them inside the home lets you train them while you have their (mostly) undivided attention. The more generalizing work you do, the easier proofing will be.
When generalizing, it’s important to remember the “four D’s”:
- Distance. As you teach your dog a new behavior, increase the distance between you and them. If you step back too far and lose their focus, go back to them and start over.
- Distraction. As you gradually increase the distance from your pup, increase the amount of distractions as well. Try playing bird sound effects, or having someone else stand in the room with you. This should still be in your home, as other environments like parks will have distractions you can’t control.
- Duration. Start by holding them in a command like “sit” or “stay” for a couple of seconds, and then try to go longer and longer each time before giving them a treat. By doing so, you are strengthening their attention span and teaching them that the longer they behave, the more they will be rewarded.
- Difficulty. Once your dog has learned a command they were having trouble with, it’s time to level up the difficulty. This could mean adding more of the above D’s or working in a harder command. The more you up the stakes at home, the better they’ll perform when you move outside the home.
What’s proofing and why is it important?
Once you’ve nailed down training inside, you’ll want to quickly begin “proofing,” a term that refers to training your dog to complete those same commands they learned at home in settings with more distractions.
For example, if you can get your dog to easily sit for you in your living room, you may have more trouble getting them to sit on a crowded city sidewalk, or a park with dogs running around. You’ll likely need to use the training methods you used inside to train them over and over again in a wide variety of settings until they’ve learned to follow your commands in every situation.
Common behavior problems that training can address
Understanding the most common behavioral problems in dogs ahead of training can go a long way in generalizing and proofing. Even if your pet isn’t exhibiting these behaviors now, they can start to down the line, and you’ll want to get a jump on them before they become bad habits.
Perhaps the most common obedience problem with dogs is their vocalizing. While some will shrug it off as “dogs being dogs,” the behavior is much more controllable than you may realize, as long as you can identify the source of their excessive barking and incorporate a “quiet” command when the situation arises.
If your housetrained dog has accidents inside the house, set up a vet appointment to rule out any underlying health conditions. If they’re healthy, then you’ve got a behavioral problem on your hands. Whether it’s marking, anxiety, or excitement, you’ll want to determine what’s making them do their business inside so you can modify the behavior.
The cute look on a begging dog’s face shouldn’t earn them any table scraps. Teach your dog to stay in a designated spot while you are eating and reward them with a dog treat (again, not table scraps) when you have finished your meal.
Even the tiniest of dogs can turn a pristine lawn into a bunch of dirt piles with excessive digging. Giving your dog plenty of exercise or a sanctioned area for digging can save you a ton of frustration (and money on gardening).
Most of the time, dogs jump on their owners and people out of excitement. While you may be just as excited to see your dog as they are to see you, praising them when they jump on you as you walk into your home only reinforces their behavior. Instead, you should turn away from them and ignore them until they’ve calmed down, signaling that jumping won’t get them the attention they crave in those moments.
Advanced dog training techniques
Once you’ve put in all the work of basic obedience training with your dog, you’ll likely just want to sprawl out on a pool chair with a mai tai while your well-trained dog lies obediently on the ground next to you.
But the truth is, there’s so much more you can train your dog to do beyond the basics, and the more they learn the more confident and mentally stimulated they’ll be (not to mention impressive). Consider these advanced dog training commands when you’ve mastered the rest.
Getting your dog to bark may seem like a complete 180 from the sought-after “quiet” command. But by teaching your dog to bark on command , you can better teach them to stop barking on command. It also makes a fun trick for friends.
Teach your dog to head over to a designated area with the “place” command. This could be their dog bed, a crate, a mat on the floor, or any number of places you want them to go to. In this video, K9-1 takes you through a step-by-step guide on how to get your dog to understand “place”: How to Train a Dog to Go to a “Place” Mat (K9-1.com)
Greet your dog professionally with a firm pawshake. To unlock this one, put your dog in a sit position and say “give paw” or “shake” as you pick up their paw and shake it, followed by a treat. After several repetitions of this, extend your open palm and say the command until they learn to do it on their own.
To teach your dog how to play the classic game of fetch, start by building their interest in a specific toy by stuffing treats inside and rewarding them every time they interact with it. Use a “fetch” command when you throw it, then excitedly call them back to you in a high-pitched voice.
Open the door
You read that right. Sure, you could install a doggy door so you don’t have to get up every time your pup whines from the back deck. Or you could teach them to do it themselves with an “open” command. This one is tricky so you may need to demonstrate how it’s done a couple of times before they get the hang of it, but practice makes perfect!
Frequently asked questions
What are the most important dog commands?
Basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “lie down,” “come,” and “drop it” (among others) can come in handy for any dog training from basic obedience to advanced behavioral modification.
What is the key to dog training?
Patience and consistency are the most important aspects of dog training. It can take a long time for a dog to understand even basic commands, and keeping at it every day without losing patience is essential.
Can you train an adult or senior dog?
Despite the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” you can! Training a dog at any age can teach them your expectations of them and strengthen your canine-human bond.
Should you yell at dogs for misbehaving?
Training methods that focus on positive reinforcement and rewards have been proven to be more effective than discipline and fear tactics.