How to Train Your Dog

By Adrienne Farricelli

Training your dog takes more than just holding a cookie in one hand and a clicker in the other. It requires good timing, consistency and some basic knowledge of how dogs learn. The best approach is to attend obedience classes. While that may not work for everyone, training is important to enrich your relationship with your dog and teach him important skills.

Provide Benevolent Guidance

Contrary to popular belief, dogs aren't trying to rule the roost and be in charge. Rather, they're simply studying human behavior to determine what they can and cannot get away with and draw conclusions based on their interactions. If your dog is misbehaving, there's no need to assert yourself as the alpha by forcibly dominating your dog into submission. Instead, focus on gently influencing your dog by reinforcing wanted behaviors and ensuring you don’t inadvertently reward unwanted behavior.

Embrace Positive Reinforcement

Training should be a fun and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog. Positive reinforcement offers the opportunity to motivate your dog allowing him to learn through the use of rewards. If you give your dog a treat every time he performs a wanted behavior such as sitting or lying down, he will understand that sitting or lying down yields a reward and these behaviors should strengthen and increase over time.

Training Basic Commands

To train your dog to sit: use a treat to guide your dog's nose upwards and back. When your dog's nose moves upwards, his rump should lower towards the floor. The moment his rump touches the floor, praise your dog and give the treat.

To train lie down: use a treat to guide him straight down and then to move it away from him as if designing an imaginary "L". Praise and give the treat once his elbows touch the floor.

To train your dog to come to you: use a long line, a lightweight leash measuring several feet, and practice calling him. Provide loads of positive reinforcement when your dog comes to you through praise and treats.

To teach the stay command: stand in front of your dog and ask your dog to sit or lie down. Praise him and give a treat for holding the position. Gradually, increase the time your dog holds the position.

On- and Off-Leash Training

To train your dog to walk on-leash without pulling: play the green light, red light game. Stop the moment your dog pulls and call him back to your side asking him to sit. Once he's in heel position and sitting, praise and reward him with a treat and resume walking. Repeat as often as needed. Dogs with a good recall, a solid stay and good leash manners, may move on to advanced off-leash training. Start practicing with a long line in a safe enclosed area and reward your dog when he comes to you and sticks to your side.

Crate Training Dogs

Whether you're using a crate for potty training or to confine your dog as needed, it's important to train your dog the "kennel" command. Make the crate appealing by placing treats and toys in it and leaving the door open. Your dog will start entering the crate on his own to check for goodies. Then start saying "kennel" and toss a treat inside to lure him in. Repeat several times. At some point, don't use the treat to lure him in. Instead, wait for him to enter upon hearing the command and give him the treat only once he's inside. Start closing him in the crate with his meals or favorite toys for a few minutes and gradually increase the length of time.

Moving to Advanced Training

After your dog reliably responds to commands at home, you must start introducing distractions. Once your dog reaches a good level of performance around distractions and reliably responds to your command, you can consider having a trainer assess him and see if he's ready to be enrolled in advanced training classes and canine sports such as agility or rally obedience. And if your dog has the correct temperament, you may consider service dog training or therapy dog training.