One of life’s greatest joys is the companionship of a canine. Any dog owner will tell you that their four-legged family members are filled with unconditional love and unwavering devotion.
Unfortunately, lack of proper training can lead to frustration, damage, and a compromised human-canine connection; however, there’s no need to fret if you have never owned a dog or haven’t been given the awesome opportunity to train one.
In this comprehensive step-by-step guide, we’ll cover everything you’ll need to know about training your new furry friend, including:
- Common dog training myths
- Helpful training tips
- Basic commands
- Common mistakes novice dog owners make
- Additional tips for navigating life with a canine
Dog Training, Explained
It may seem like some dogs are naturally well behaved, but chances are, those well-mannered dogs have been trained and showered with love and affection.
In essence, dog training is behavior modification that helps canines obey commands, regulate impulsivity, and behave appropriately, even during periods with limited or no supervision.
Before we dig into specific training tips, we’d like to address a few common training-related myths.
5 Common Dog Training Myths, Debunked
If you’re concerned that your canine is untrainable, allow us to debunk some all-too-common myths:
Myth #1: Old Dogs Can’t Learn New Tricks
Older pups aren’t given enough credit when it comes to obedience training. In many cases, mature dogs are easier to train, thanks to their calmer demeanor and ability to focus on assigned tasks.
We’re the first to admit that training an adult dog often takes extra time, effort, and patience, largely due to the fact that older canines are generally set in their ways; however, this certainly doesn’t make senior pups untrainable.
Myth #2: Puppies Can’t Be Trained Until They Are 6 Months Old
It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to fully train a puppy, so it’s important to start the training process ASAP. Starting at just 8 weeks, pups can learn basic commands and begin housetraining. They can also start the socialization process and learn to walk on a leash.
Sure, your puppy may become easily distracted and/or need frequent training reminders, but developing good habits early is the key to consistency later on.
Myth #3: Positive Reinforcement Doesn’t Work for Aggressive or Frightened Dogs
Sadly, some dog owners attempt to control their aggressive pups with force, scare tactics, and/or aggression, which tends to exacerbate fear and undesirable behavior in dogs.
Positive reinforcement is a highly effective training method in which dog owners reinforce desirable behavior by offering their pups rewards and plenty of praise. These techniques have been shown to reduce aggression and instill positive habits.
Myth #4: Only Intelligent Breeds Can be Trained
Never write off a dog due to her breed’s perceived low level of intelligence. Some canines learn more quickly than others, but virtually any dog can learn commands and become more obedient. Getting to know your dog as an individual will help you discover what motivates her.
Myth #5: Treats during Training Lead to Problems Later On
A common misconception among new dog owners is that offering treats during training will lead to dependency and poor behavior when food isn’t offered. While this fear is understandable, rest assured that your dog will continue to behave, sans treats, once he’s fully trained.
Food rewards are effective throughout training, so there’s no need to banish treats in order to ward of dependency. Keep in mind that only about 10% of your pup’s daily calories should be in the form of treats, so you may want to incorporate other types of rewards. More on this topic later.
Now that we’ve separated fact from fiction, let’s discuss our top 13 tried-and-true training tips for novice dog owners:
13 Expert-Approved General Dog Training Tips
To avoid overwhelming yourself and your canine, try implementing the following suggestions slowly. Training your dog will take time, and it can be incredibly helpful to go into the process with a positive “no rush” attitude.
While training is important, it’s essential to first make your pet feel safe and secure in your presence and in your home. Whether your pup has been abandoned, separated from his mother and/or previous owners, or confined to a cage in a shelter, he’ll need time to warm up to his new human(s) and surroundings.
It’s also important to avoid comparing yourself to other dog owners and their dog training success; instead, work at the pace that’s right for you and your new four-legged companion.
Dog Training Tip #1: Schedule Short Training Sessions Each Day
It’s best to train your pup in short daily bursts rather than attempting to cram a lot of instruction into super-long periodic sessions, which can lead to fatigue and frustration. Train your pooch when she’s well-rested and alert, and call it quits if you lose her attention. Obedience training is likely to be much easier for you and your canine when it becomes part of your daily routine.
Dog Training Tip #2: Start with Your Dog’s Name
If you’re given the opportunity to name your new canine, be sure to teach him his name before beginning obedience training. To quickly and efficiently acquaint your dog with his name, call him and reward him with a treat each time he responds. This is a great way to start forming a bond with your pet.
Dog Training Tip #3: Get to Know Your Pup to Personalize Your Training Program
Obedience training isn’t one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to get acquainted with your pet for maximum training potential. Some dogs appreciate a pat on the head or a favorite toy as a reward, while others are motivated by treats. Learning what your dog loves will help you navigate the training process.
Dog Training Tip #4: Offer Plenty of Praise
Dogs want nothing more than to make their owners proud. When you praise and reward good behavior, your pup will lap up your flattery and affection, and aim to repeat those positive experiences.
Dog Training Tip #5: Don’t Overemphasize Bad Behavior
While addressing bad behavior is unavoidable at times, your pooch needs positive reinforcement rather than exaggerated reactions or punishment for bad behavior. Build your dog up on a daily basis, and encourage her to continue exhibiting good behavior.
Dog Training Tip #6: Be Consistent
Consistency is key when it comes to training your pup. Although it can be tiresome to reiterate the house rules you’ve established, consistent reinforcement and routine will teach your dog he can count on you at all times.
Dog Training Tip #7: Address Your Dog’s Behavior Right Away
Don’t hold off on praising your dog or responding to her naughty behavior. Experts believe a dog’s short-term memory is limited to just 5 minutes, so promptness is key.
Dog Training Tip #8: Pay Attention to Your Pup’s Body Language
Dogs express themselves through body language, so learning to read your pet’s cues is incredibly helpful throughout the training process. The American Kennel Club (AKC) explains that cowering, yawning, lots of motion, and lack of movement are signs of stress or an antisocial mood. When your pup snuggles close to you, however, he’s likely craving your affection.
Dog Training Tip # 9: Invest in Various Types of Chew Toys
To help prevent slobbery sneakers and gnawed furniture, pick out a few types of chew toys for your pup. A dog’s desire to chew is innate, so keeping a supply of toys on hand and switching them out often will keep your canine interested and your belongings slobber and bite-free. A great way to ensure you always have a variety of toys in rotation is by treating your pup to a subscription box. We are particularly fond of BarkBox.
Dog Training Tip #10: Give Your Canine Space
Just like their humans, dogs need downtime. Psychology Today suggests giving your pooch regular solo time regularly. If possible, give your pet a dedicated space in your home to unwind, and let him decide when he wants to be together and when he wants to escape to his safe solo spot.
Dog Training Tip #11: Set Realistic Expectations
There will undoubtedly be training highs and lows, but setting realistic expectations and being patient with yourself and your pet will ward off frustration. Don’t expect her to learn a new command or be housetrained after one training session. Also remember that every dog learns at a different pace, so never compare your pup’s progress to other canines.
Dog Training Tip #12: Make Training a Collaborative Effort
Before beginning the training process, make sure everyone in your house is onboard. It’s essential to establish ground rules and follow up regularly to make sure everyone is consistently following them. If you agree not to allow your pup on furniture, make sure your partner or children don’t let her sit on the sofa or snuggle up in bed. As mentioned previously, consistency is key, especially when there are multiple family members involved in the obedience training process.
Dog Training Tip #13: Determine How Much Food Your Canine Needs
Training takes lots of energy. To ensure your pup isn’t over or undereating, check out Pet MD’s daily feeding guide for daily food recommendations. Puppies tend to require several meals throughout the day, while adult dogs typically need to eat twice in a 24-hour period. Keep in mind that your dog’s nutritional needs are likely to change over time.
To preserve your patience, sanity, and home, housetraining your dog is essential. Accidents happen, but commitment and consistency will help ensure your pup doesn’t pee or poo indoors. Pay attention to your canine’s cues. If he becomes restless, begins barking near the door, or walking or running in circles, he probably needs a bathroom break. The following tips should help simplify the potty-training process:
Housetraining Tip #1: Stick to a Schedule
As with all things training related, routine is key when it comes to housetraining. If you’re training a puppy, he’ll need frequent trips outside. The U.S. Humane Society recommends bathroom breaks upon waking, during and after playtime, and after eating or drinking, with no more than 2 hours between breaks. Ideally, you’ll feed your pup at the same times each day to help maintain a consistent bathroom schedule.
Housetraining Tip #2: Pick a Dedicated Bathroom Spot Outdoors
To form good bathroom habits, always lead your puppy or dog to the same outdoor spot. Choose a word or phrase that will remind your pooch that it’s time to relieve herself. When taking your canine outside for exercise or play, lead her to her dedicated bathroom spot first to help solidify the habit. Until your pup is piddling consistently in the same area, take her out on a leash.
Housetraining Tip #3: Offer Consistent Praise and Rewards
Your pup is on a constant mission for your praise, even for seemingly simple tasks like piddling outdoors. Take a treat along on each outing as a post-potty reward, and don’t wait too long to praise your pooch to ensure he associates your positive response with his impressive bathroom habits.
Housetraining Tip #4: Make Nighttime Potty Breaks Boring
According to the U.S. Humane Society, puppies typically sleep for about 7 hours at night before needing a bathroom break, but the occasional need for a middle-of-the-night outing is bound to happen. When your pup has to pee during the night, make the process as dull as possible. Limit how much you talk to your pet, and don’t show too much excitement. Limit how many lights you turn on, and be sure your pooch goes right back to bed after the outing. It’s also a good idea to hide his water bowl a couple of hours before bedtime.
Housetraining Tip #5: Correct Mistakes with Consistency
Your dog will undoubtedly have indoor accidents, but handling the situation appropriately will help her begin taking her business outdoors. Correct your pup as soon as you see her relieving herself in the house. The U.S. Humane Society suggests startling your pooch without scaring her. Sternly saying “outside” and taking her to her dedicated outdoor spot will reiterate your established bathroom rules. Never punish your pup when accidents happen. Instead, interrupt the bad behavior and always offer plenty of praise when your pet follows the rules.
Housetraining Tip #6: Clean Up Accidents Right Away
If your puppy or dog smells traces of feces or urine in the house, he’ll likely return to that spot. If he pees or poos indoors, be sure to clean the area right away. There are many pet stain removers on the market that will do the job.
Housetraining Tip #7: Have a Plan When You’re Away From Home
Giving your canine free rein while you’re away could lead to training setbacks and puddles all over your home. As mentioned previously, puppies need to relieve themselves frequently. While older dogs can go longer periods between bathroom breaks, it’s still important to establish a potty plan for your pup when you’re away from home.
Ideally, a neighbor or pet sitter will take your dog out at regular intervals. As an alternative, you may choose a dedicated indoor spot for your dog to do the deed, placing newspaper in the designated area. Unfortunately, this approach may reverse your hard work and make it difficult to break your dog’s habit of indoor elimination later on. Some experts warn against puppy pads and utilizing indoor potty spots for this reason.
Basic Commands to Teach Your Canine
Obedience training takes time and energy, along with an abundance of patience, but any proud dog owner will tell you that having a well-behaved dog is well worth the effort. Your pup will respond best to positive reinforcement, so be sure to offer praise and rewards for positive behavior, and refrain from using a stern voice to initiate training. This process should be enjoyable for you and your dog. It’s best to train your dog after playtime or exercise to ensure he’s not filled with an abundance of excess energy.
Keep in mind that some dog owners use a piece of their dogs’ kibble as a reward during obedience training, while others purchase high-quality treats that are only used during training sessions. Do what works best for you and your pet.
Basic Command #1: Teach Your Dog to Sit & Stay
Zak George, dog training extraordinaire and author of the bestselling book Dog Training Revolution, teaches canine owners to hold a treat in one hand while luring their pup into a seated position, then rewarding the pet with a treat. After a while, your dog will associate the word “sit” with the action of sitting, and luring him into a seated position won’t be necessary. It’s natural for dogs (especially puppies) to get distracted. When distractions occur, simply redirect your pup’s attention by letting him sniff a treat.
To teach your dog to stay, encourage him to remain in a seated position, and reward him once he’s maintained the position for several seconds.
Now is the perfect time to introduce the word “stay” as a command, gradually increasing the amount of time you require your pooch to remain seated. George explains that asking a dog to sit for a prolonged period in the beginning is a common mistake made by novice dog owners.
To see this command in action, click here. George also demonstrates how to teach a dog to stay when there are nearby distractions. This command can be particularly useful when you’re out ‘n about with your canine—especially in busy areas.
Basic Command #2: Teach Your Dog to Lie Down
Once you’ve taught your pup to sit and stay, teaching him to lie down should be fairly simple. The steps are nearly identical, except you’ll be luring your dog into a lying position for this popular and useful command.
Celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell suggests holding a piece of food in your hand and saying the word “down” as your pup lays his stomach on the ground. Never force your pet by pushing his hindquarters down. The only contact you’ll need to make with your dog during this training session is a celebratory pat for his effort.
Once you’ve repeated this process several times, check to see if your pup has made the connection between the word “down” and the desired action. You may need to lure your pet up from the lying position to continue the training session, as he may begin to associate lying down with rewards.
Check out Stilwell’s online tutorial for more information on this command, including hand signals and initiating the command from various positions. We also recommend her book, It’s Me or the Dog, and the television series of the same name.
Basic Command #3: Teach Your Dog to Walk on a Leash
Walks with your dog will be much more enjoyable if she refrains from pulling on her leash. Dogs are curious by nature, but this command will teach your pup to focus on the task at hand. Be sure to take treats along on your stroll, and plan several training walks before taking your pup on a walk to a particular destination.
First, take your dog outdoors on her leash and give her a treat when she focuses on you and not on nearby distractions, such as birds, other dogs, etc. George recommends saying, “look at me,” to get your pup’s attention. Next, use the same phrase while walking your dog, and praise and reward her for focusing on you. If your canine becomes distracted, put some distance between your pet and the distraction. Over time, you’ll be able to phase out treats as your pooch becomes more focused and receptive to your instruction.
For a visual tutorial of this command, click here.
Basic Command #4: Teach Your Dog to Come When Called
All of the commands mentioned in this article are important, but teaching your dog to come when called can be potentially lifesaving. George encourages dog owners to “practice this [command] early and often, and in lots of different places.” Start in a small, familiar indoor area before moving onto a more distracting environment. An enthusiastic approach works best for many dogs, but some pups prefer gentle commands.
This particular command works best with two trainers, as the pup can run back and forth when each trainer calls him. If your dog is easily distracted during the initial training sessions, try a smaller area and work your way up to longer distances. For this command, George recommends rewarding your pup generously.
After your dog has mastered running back and forth between trainers when called, try calling him randomly when he least expects it. If your pup appears to be confused or distracted, put less distance between the two of you until he responds to your command. Once your dog has mastered this command in a controlled environment, it’s time to venture outdoors.
You can watch a detailed video tutorial by George here.
Basic Command #5: Teach Your Dog to Heel
The command “heel” refers to your dog staying by your side. It’s helping during outings and for dogs participating in competitions, but this command should be practiced only on an as-needed basis, as it requires lots of focus and attention on the dog’s part.
In his video dedicated to this particular command, George explains that dogs should be trained to follow a lure and look at their trainer. Generally, dogs are taught to heel on their trainers’ left side, but you can feel free to lead your dog to the side of your body that feels most natural. Once lured to your chosen side, reward your dog liberally to reinforce the good behavior. In the beginning, it’s natural for distractions to occur, in which case you can gently lure your dog back to your side.
Once your dog has mastered the basics of the heel command, you can alternate speeds and teach her to maintain the position when navigating turns. Encourage your dog to make eye contact while learning this command, and try it out in various locations to ensure your pup gets it down pat.
Basic Command #6: Teach Your Dog to Drop an Item from His Mouth
Teaching your dog to “drop it” should be practiced with care, especially if you’re attempting to retrieve a small item from your pup’s mouth.
Longer rope toys are a great starting point, as they give the owner adequate room to grasp. When you hold onto the toy firmly and don’t pull on it or play along, your pup will become disinterested. It may take time (anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes), but your dog will eventually let go of the toy. At this point, simply drop the toy to the ground and let your dog retrieve it.
For a video tutorial and more expert advice on the “drop it” command, click here.
Common Dog Training Mistakes to Avoid
Just as your pup will likely need lots of practice to learn each command, it’s natural for novice trainers to experience setbacks during training. To help prevent common mistakes, we’ve compiled a list of training blunders you’ll want to avoid:
Training Mistake #1: Long Training Sessions
It’s best to plan short daily training sessions to keep your dog’s interest and avoid burnout and frustration. It will be difficult to train your pooch when your head isn’t in the game. Zero in on your pet’s attention span, and don’t overdo it.
Training Mistake #2: Poor Instruction
If your dog seems confused and unable to learn a command, she may need more information. A different training approach may do the trick, but don’t push your pup to get it right in one session. Be patient, and if your instructions seem to puzzle your pooch, research an alternate training method and try the new approach later. Continuously repeating commands and expecting different results will only lead to frustration for both you and your pet.
Training Mistake #3: Unpredictable Training Methods
Positive reinforcement dog training methods have proven to be much more effective than old school correction-based methods. Unfortunately, some folks still attempt to train their canines using force and other fear-inducing techniques. Dog owners who combine positive reinforcement and correction-based methods set their pets up for a lifetime of confusion, instilling fear and uncertainty as to whether they’ll be punished or rewarded for their behavior.
Training Mistake #4: Training While Tired, Distracted, or Angry
Dogs sense human emotions, so if you’re exhausted, distracted, or simply having a bad day, you may want to skip your scheduled training session. Your dog deserves your undivided attention and positivity, so it’s best to initiate training when you’re feeling up to the task.
Training Mistake #5: Inconsistency
Your pup needs consistency over the short and long term. It’s important to pencil in regular training sessions since sporadic, infrequent sessions will not lead to lasting results. Many novice dog owners are consistent in the beginning but fail to continue working with their dogs on a regular basis, which often results in pups forgetting rules, commands, etc.
As mentioned previously, long training sessions aren’t recommended. Short, frequent sessions will ensure your dog retains the information you’ve taught him.
Training Mistake #6: Training at Home—and Nowhere Else
It’s fun to take dogs on adventures near and far, but if you’ve only attempted training in the privacy of your home, your canine may struggle to follow commands anywhere else. It’s best to shake up your training routine by scheduling sessions in various places, including in outdoor spaces.
While distractions may be limited in your humble abode, there will be plenty of diversions elsewhere. Training your pet outside and in different locations will help him focus and follow commands regardless of where you go together.
Training Mistake #7: Lack of Variety in Rewards
Treats will undoubtedly motivate your dog, but offering various types of rewards will ensure your pup responds to offerings other than edible ones. An enthusiastic pat, praise for a job well done, and toys are great alternatives to treats. Try mixing things up to keep training interesting for your canine.
A Few Additional Tips to Help You Start Your Dog-Training Journey
Whether you’re a first time dog owner, or you haven’t trained a canine in quite some time, we understand that the process can be overwhelming. We’d like to leave you with a few additional tips and tricks to amp up your dog training success:
- Work on one goal at a time: Avoid attempting to teach your pup multiple commands per session. Too much, too fast often results in frustration for the dog and owner alike.
- Don’t give up on your dog: Even if your pup takes longer to train than you’d like, be patient and consistent to show your pet you’re in this for the long haul.
- Prioritize your dog’s health: Prior to beginning training, make an appointment for your pup with a local veterinarian to ensure he’s in tip-top shape and has no underlying health conditions that may hinder training. Ask the vet for diet recommendations, and be sure to feed your canine the optimal amount for his age, size, breed, activity level, etc. Your dog will need plenty of energy to maintain a training routine. Fresh water is equally important.
- Make time for fun and relaxation: Your daily interactions with your dog should include plenty of playtime, exercise, and cuddle time, in addition to regular training. When you interact with your pup in these various ways, he’ll view you as his loyal companion in addition to his trainer.
- Be sensitive to your dog’s feelings: Just like humans, dogs have “off” days. Agitation, lack of sleep, or illness may sap your pet’s energy, along with his ability to actively participate in obedience training. It’s perfectly okay to postpone a training session until your pooch is feeling better. Taking a nap together, or giving your dog some alone time, may restore his typical energy level and happy-go-lucky mood.
- Make training fun: You’ve provided a safe and loving home for your new pup, for which he’ll be eternally grateful. The bond between you will become stronger as you get to know one another and share fun experiences, including training sessions. If you and your dog look forward to each session, the process will become increasingly enjoyable and successful. The time you spend together during training shouldn’t be treated as a chore. Focus on enjoying your time together and strengthening your connection, and soon you’ll understand why dogs are referred to as “man’s best friend.”