Written by FOTP Team
Raiding the fridge, giving unwanted kisses, and vanishing around corners: who’s worse, you or the dog? In this article we discuss puppy training (including the method which enabled Guide Dogs for the Blind to cut training time in HALF) including essential commands, basic techniques, and avoiding misinformation. Your dog will be sitting, staying, and rolling over in no time. We’ve rounded up the top dog training techniques to help you begin your obedience training!
When you bring home a puppy, their training begins! So if you let them sleep in your bed, climb on the couch, or lick the baby on day one... you’re letting yourself in for a whole world of trouble.
Don’t worry. We’ve got this. Settle them into a dedicated bed (not yours) and read our article – let’s start with all the dog training techniques that you should and SHOULDN’T use.
When a dog rolls on its back and shows its belly, it is submissive. It’s showing that you are in charge but more than that – the dog trusts you completely.
In 1947, Rudolph Schenkel wrote a famous study about wolves. He observed wolves in a pack fighting and presumed this was carried out to establish a leader (later labelled the “alpha”).
Based on these ideas about pack hierarchy, the “alpha-roll” was invented. It involves rolling a dog onto its back (from a lying position) and pinning the dog there to show that you (the human) are in charge. Cruel? Yes. Effective? Probably not.
Years after Schenkel’s study, scientists discovered that there is no “alpha wolf”. There are simply family groups comprising parents with older and younger offspring, and fighting is caused by other factors, such as stress. Wolves don’t pin down other pack members, although sometimes they will roll voluntarily in appeasement.
In further proof, this 2009 study showed that techniques like the alpha-roll (and other methods which invoke fear in dogs) are useless – and actually increase aggressive responses.
In short, we strongly advise that you don’t attempt the “alpha roll” on your dog. So what kind of training techniques make better choices?
If you know a dog (any dog), it’ll be no surprise to you that rewards are known to be THE most effective form of training. So instead of alpha-rolling, shouting, hitting or restraining a dog, start giving chunks of sausage or cheese: you’ll receive a warm and happy response.
At Guide Dogs for the Blind, negative training has been completely abandoned. Time Magazine reports that the modern training policy has halved the time it takes to train a service dog. Why? The pups are less stressed and more responsive to positive training, so they love their work.
We raise our kids with kindness and gentleness, and the same works with dogs. Show them that they don’t need to be frightened and they’ll be calm, happy animals who are loyal to you. Relationship-based dog training is the way to go.
So let’s look at some dog training techniques which are positive, simple, and effective. These basic techniques will enable you to form a bond with your dog, who will become keen to please.
Puppies need to meet people. Lots of people! Before they are 20 weeks old, take them to busy places, coffee shops, lakes, parks, woodlands and beaches. Show them crashing waves, tall flowers, and people wearing sunglasses. Let them introduce themselves to dogs along the way (as other dogs will have a way of teaching your puppy how to socialize). Socialization is the best way for your puppy to learn about the world – and feel safe and secure right by your side.
Positive dog training is usually associated with rewards. But you don’t have to set out with treats bulging from every pocket in your coat. Positive rewards can also be things like a ball to fetch, or physical stroking. (“Good boy” is pointless. This study showed that dogs don’t care much for verbal praise!) It’s known as positive reinforcement. If your dog stops listening, temporarily withholding a reward can help the dog to pay attention. You can use rewards to incorporate training on every walk. For example, if your dog loves to run, tell them to sit (behavior) before you remove the leash (reward).
A dog pulling on a leash creates their own reward: they reach the park faster. Likewise, a dog jumping up at a friendly human receives attention from the person – maybe even a stroke. You can recognise and prevent these accidental rewards. For instance, when your dog pulls on the leash, stop walking. Ask friends and family to ignore the dog until they are sitting nicely on the ground, and then give the dog some affection.
If you are training your dog to sit or stay, you might give them a reward after they’ve done the right thing. To let them know exactly when they’ve done right, you can use a special word or a clicker. It helps them to identify the positive behavior that has earned them a treat.
Bad behavior means something has gone wrong; but no animal acts without reason. If you can understand why the dog is misbehaving, you can intervene. Does your dog receive a reward (comfort) when it jumps onto the couch? Or is anxiety prompting your dog to bark? It’s not as simple as “bad” and “good”. A bored dog might benefit from food puzzles or toys. If you’re stumped, a dog trainer can help to diagnose issues which cause misbehaviors. Increasing communication and training-based rewards will help to strengthen your bond and improve overall obedience.
If your dog is misbehaving – by pulling on walks or growling when you make a demand – you may think they are asserting themselves as an alpha dog. But many dog trainers believe this is a false theory.
“Dogs are not on a quest for world domination,” says dog trainer Victoria Stillwell. “Contrary to what traditional training ideologies and modern media would have you believe, most canine behavior problems stem from insecurity and/or a desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort – not from a desire to establish higher rank and be the ‘alpha’ over you.”
If you have a dog which is misbehaving, consider whether it is attempting to assert dominance... or just trying to get something that it wants. Dominance is commonly misdiagnosed, and you might be able to correct the behavior with an alternative behavior associated with positive reinforcement. For instance, a dog scratching at a door can be distracted and asked to lie down for a reward. Remember to reward your dog next time they’re not scratching at the door!
Choose little pieces of cheese, dog biscuits, pieces of meat, peanut butter, or sausage – whatever your dog loves best. When you feed in training, make sure you put a little less food in their dinner bowl.
It comes first because you will need it when you want to walk your pup off-leash. It’s a great way to introduce the idea of treat rewards and it’s simple for the dog to understand. Don’t call your dog’s name too much on a walk. If you overdo it, the dog will stop listening. And don’t call your dog to tell them off: that will set-back their learning.
‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Heel’ and ‘Lie Down’ will be important when you want your dog to be calm and controlled in any situation. Then you can try some tricks! Once you’ve got ‘Lie Down’, try ‘Roll Over’ (and maybe ‘Play Dead’). Kids will enjoy teaching the dog to ‘Shake Hands’ – and it’s an easy one for them to learn! ‘Speak’ is another simple trick and it’s quite helpful if you add ‘Quiet’ because your dog will understand that their barking is controlled. (Plus, in a difficult situation, a dog trained to ‘speak’ can appear to be intimidating.)
Socialized, happy dogs want to greet everyone they know! So prep your friends by asking them to ignore the dog until it has four paws on the ground.
It won’t constrict your dog’s throat. And here is a difficult but effective training technique: for every step that your dog strains on the leash, walk backwards two steps. Your dog is desperate to get to their destination. So they’ll learn that walking properly is the only way to move forward.
Some trainers recommend crates for dogs which will benefit from their own space. If you train them gently with treats and rewards for going to an open crate, your pup will feel it’s a positive place. It’s also really useful for travel.
Books give you a good foundation in dog training principles. But attending sessions with other dog owners will give you better insight and solid practice. Dog trainers can work magic on unruly dogs – they often see things that we don’t! Find dog obedience classes online via the American Kennel Club.