Choosing a Dog Training Method: Find the Right Training Plan for You and Your Dog

January 20, 2019
As a dog owner with over 25 years of experience, I can attest that having a dog is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened in my life. The companionship and joy they bring is incomparable.

Wondering how to obedience train your dog by yourself? If you don't live near an obedience school, don't despair. You can train effectively all by yourself.

Dog-training books (or videos or DVDs) are the solution. There are many training methods, so read several books by different trainers to find one suited to you and your dog, .

Many older books teach force training. It usually works, but today there are better options available, so it’s no longer recommended.

Some trainers teach a reward system using food, toys or even just praise. It works well, but using food has some disadvantages, sticky pockets being one! Dogs that are not motivated by food may work for a toy. For some dogs, the best reward is praise. Many dogs will do anything to be petted and hear, “Good dog!”

You also can provide a special reward at the end of a training session. Many police canine units use this because the dog happily works for praise and to receive that special treat, such as a snack or a toy, that the dog never gets at any other time.

Who’s in Charge?

Several popular “dog whisperers” advocate a method based on establishing the owner as alpha (pack leader) to ensure your dog knows you are in charge. This is often combined with other methods, especially for teaching specific skills. This style of teaching is effective and probably works best for teaching the basic skills a dog needs to be a well-behaved pet.

Clicker training was adapted from the type of motivational training originally developed to teach captive dolphins. It requires a little device that makes a clicking noise.

This method starts with food as a lure. For example, to teach a dog to sit, you hold the food above the dog’s nose and move it backwards, saying “sit”, until the dog automatically sits. You click and give him the treat. Every time he sits on command (with or without the food lure), he hears a click.

Soon he will realize the click means he did something correctly. Once he understands that, you can teach him almost anything. This method works extremely well for advanced training and teaching tricks.

So, if they all work, how do you choose? Read several books until you find a method that you feel comfortable using. Then try it, be consistent, and if your dog responds well, you are on the right track.

Remember to be flexible! You may find your dog responds to one method for some skills, but needs a different method or combination of methods to learn others, especially for advanced training.

Three Little Rules

However you train, there are three main considerations.

First, keep sessions short. Dogs get bored, just like people. Learning new things can’t be rushed. Remember that your dog actually has to learn how to learn first. Five minutes or even less is best when you begin training.

Second, keep it fun. If things aren’t going well, or you aren’t in a good mood, just stop. If possible, have the dog do something simple that he already knows, so his last memory of the lesson will be praised for doing something right.

Third, be patient. You can’t expect results overnight. Each dog is different in terms of how quickly he learns, how much he retains from one session to the next and how much information he can process at once. What takes one dog a few days to master may take another dog a month, not because he is stupid, but because his brain processes information differently.

Whatever you do, remember that your dog is an intelligent individual who wants to please you. Work with him, encourage him to succeed, develop a partnership, and you will end up with a well-behaved companion


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