These are the top 5 burning dog training questions that I receive from my clients all of the time. My goal is to help everyone that has just gotten a dog take some initial training steps, or even if you've had a dog(s) for a while, you may be trying to figure out the best ways to train your dog to help them unlearn some bad habits.
1. How do I choose a dog trainer?
When choosing a dog trainer here are the top four items to look for:
- LOCATION: You’re looking at their location. Do you have to drive a long way, or do they come to you? Make sure it’s easy to get to/fro.
- METHODS: You need to ask what is their method? Do they use positive reinforcement? Basically what this means is that they use a reward-based system to promote the wanted behavior and to eliminate the unwanted behavior. Some trainers use more of a pack leader mentality, possibly use shock collars or pinch collars which doesn’t promote good behavior. A lot of dog facilities that promise fast results typically don’t use positive reinforcement because when you use positive reinforcement you are molding and imprinting a new behavior which takes time, and it doesn’t matter how smart your dog is. Typically, it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit in dog’s behavior.
- COST: Another thing you want to look at is cost. As with most things, you do get what you pay for so make sure to remember that. Once you note what your budget is and provide yourself a range from low, middle to max spend, you should get a few (or more) consultations to get a feel for personality and style.
- EXPERIENCE: Make sure to talk about the dog trainer’s experience. Find out who they’ve worked with, who they’ve trained with, and how long they’ve been in business.
2. At what age should I start training my puppy?
This is a great question that I get asked all the time. What I tell my clients is that it’s never too early to start training. But, training a dog, especially a puppy, doesn’t mean just teaching sit, stay, come, roll over, high five, or to sit on command. A lot of people think of training as basic obedience.
Rather, puppy training encompasses the entire lifestyle and well-being of the pet. As soon as you get your puppy, there must be rules, boundaries, and limitations put in place so that the dog has structure. Just like a child, they need structure so they can understand what is expected from them. So, from the time we get a puppy, there are things like how to handle the dog, the schedule, when does it eat, when do we leave the food out, how much to feed, how much to exercise, what’s too much exercise, and promoting calm behavior.
So, the short and the long is that training starts from day one, and there is always the reinforcement of those rules and boundaries throughout his life to create that structure so that our dogs continue to make the right choices.
3. What are the basic dog commands I should teach my dog first?
The three basic dog training commands you want to begin with is sit, stay and come. The reason these are so important is that they can be used often and in many different situations. The “come” command is the most important command because it can potentially be a lifesaving command. What I mean by that is, if your dog should understand that coming to you is the best thing in the world, so if your dog is faced with chasing a squirrel, running into the street, anything that could be dangerous for the dog, that coming to you outweighs these other options.
And, teaching “stay” is the second most important command because it teaches the dog to have self-control.
4. Should I use a clicker when training my dog?
I’m not opposed to clicker but I think it’s important to understand how a clicker is used and what it does. A clicker essentially helps you capture a behavior that you’ve asked your dog to do. So if I have the dog sitting in front of me, and I hold a treat over his nose and raise his head as soon as his bottom hits the ground, I hit the clicker capturing that bottom hitting the ground and then I give the treat. The clicker is helping the dog understand what behavior it is that you are rewarding.
The problem with the clicker is what if you don’t have it? That can lend to issues having your dog behave. The methods and techniques I teach is to get the dog to perform the behavior we want and then reward it with praise, in combination with a high value treat. The key is you have to reward that dog within 1 to 3 seconds of them doing the behavior so that they can understand what they’re being rewarded for. If you do this consistently and repeat that process, you can take the treat away and just use the praise and the praise will hold the value of the treat that you are training it with through the process.
5. Can I potty train my older dog?
The old adage that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks is completely false. When an older dog isn’t potty trained, all that means is that they have done something else for a longer period of time (like peed in a house, not known where to go, or went wherever they wanted to for a longer period of time). You have to introduce a new routine and a new schedule into your older dog’s life.
All dogs will poop or pee after sleeping, eating, drinking water, and after a play session. So what you want to do is try to anticipate when they will need to go, take them where you want them to go to the bathroom, and when they go there you want to reward that behavior. You must repeat that process over and over again and be consistent. They have to think in their minds “if I’m inside why would I want to go outside?” If they are outside they have to think “why would I want to go to the bathroom out here versus waiting till I get back inside?” It might take a little longer to get them to do this but it’s only because they’ve done it that “other” way much longer and it has nothing to do with their age.
Throw them a little mini party - give them a treat, shower them with love etc. They need to be motivated to go in that spot. And with older dogs, if you take them to the same place every time, they’ll remember that is where you want them to go. They like consistency, repetition, and they like doing things they know, and to make their owners happy.
You may have to put a leash on them inside so that you can catch them before they go and you may have to reintroduce them to their crate. For crating, remember that they don’t have to be in a crate that is too big, but be roomy enough for them to stand up and turn around. Dogs will not eliminate where they sleep or where they lay down. If they do that in their crates there could be an underlying medical issue so do be sure to get that checked out. But with consistency you should be able to potty train your dog at any age.
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