Tips for Training Your Dog
Whether your dog simply needs help with basic commands, or they require something more, Alyssa Garcia, operations manager at Dogtopia San Antonio, says any pup is trainable. “We definitely recommend different training for different dogs—if a dog comes from a shelter or abusive situation, they may need some more intensive training,” she says. “For some dogs, it can just be learning how to sit and fetch and stay.” Dogtopia, which has one location in San Antonio but will open a second in Stone Oak soon, helps pups with basic obedience during dog daycare and also offers training at some of its locations. An animal behaviorist with a degree in animal science from Texas A&M University at Kingsville, Garcia offers some basics in pet obedience here.
Set a Firm Foundation
Whether it’s a new puppy or an older dog you’ve recently adopted into your home, Garcia says basic obedience training always helps to set expectations for behavior. “It definitely helps for them to build those habits and create memories between commands and actions,” she says. Not all dogs are motivated by the same thing, so Garcia says to also pay attention to what helps your dog listen. Some dogs sit when they know a treat comes after they obey a command while others want to be rewarded with exercise or attention.
Garcia says one of the most common mistakes she sees pet owners make when trying to teach simple commands like “sit” or “stay” is that they don’t react fast enough when their dog does obey. “The dog has two seconds before they forget why they’re sitting, so you have to praise them or reward them with a treat quickly,” she says. “As soon as they obey a command, you have to reinforce it.”
Skip the Negative Reinforcement
Want your pup to stay off the couch? Don’t yell. Garcia says often human instinct is to yell “no” when a dog does something they don’t want. Unfortunately, dogs don’t understand the “no” and interpret your raised pitch as barking instead. Rather than yelling, you might say “off” in an even tone and immediately reinforce with a treat or praise when they do get off the couch, whether assisted or unassisted. Similarly, if your dog barks at every person, car, or animal that goes by the house, resist the urge to yell. Instead, spend some time with them watching the front door or window, and praise them immediately after someone walks by but before they start barking. This helps them to understand that they don’t need to tell you about everything they see—though it will take time and practice.
Don’t Forget to Socialize
Whether at doggy daycare, a dog park, or simply in the neighborhood, canines need to be around other pups sometimes. Garcia says coming out of working from home during COVID, many families had not socialized their dogs much. To start, she recommends taking them to a dog park so they can get used to other animals with the comfort of you, their owner, nearby. Once they’re comfortable being off leash at a dog park, then owners can consider something like dog daycare where the animal will interact with other pups throughout the day.
Training takes energy, effort, and TIME! When you’re training your dog (puppy or adult), you are changing its behavior; it will take more than one attempt. You’ll want to start with the basics (think to sit…stay…) and build on those achievements. You are communicating with an animal that does not speak the same language as you! Your dog wants to understand, but give them time to understand your expectations and commands…be really patient!
Never Blame Your Dog
We mentioned that patience is key; along with that comes your attitude with training. Always keep a positive attitude when training (and talking to) your pet…refrain from yelling or scolding and never blame your dog! When you offer positive reinforcement for even the smallest accomplishments, dogs will be more likely to repeat those positive actions because they aim to please you!
Train at the Right Time
Dogs (especially puppies) have a LOT of energy; they will listen and train much better after releasing some of it. Take your pup for a long walk or visit the dog park before you plan to train to ensure they’ve gotten plenty of exercises and they’ll be ready to listen and you can make the most out of your training session.
Use the Right Treats
You’ll be amazed at how much harder your dog will work for a high-value treat that they love! The treats you choose to use will impact the success of your training. Rewards like Freeze-Dried Tripe or Rabbit Bites are perfect for training because of their size (small enough to toss to any size dog), ingredients (100% all meat), and packaging (convenient resealable bags).
If the treat comes more than a few seconds after your pup has done what you’ve asked, they have no idea what they did to earn it…or you may have inadvertently rewarded the wrong behavior. While your dog will be happy to take it, you failed to reward what you were teaching. Also, remember to always use a happy and upbeat tone when rewarding!