12 Dog Training Tips And Tricks That Get Results
April 29th, 2020
Table of Contents
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Whether you’re training your dog to make an eventual appearance on America’s Got Talent or to just be an all-around good girl, you need to adopt these 12 training tips for maximum results.
You see, while dog training may not be an exact science, there is science behind the way dogs learn. It’s called learning theory.
Over the years, we’ve discovered a lot about learning theory. For instance, we know that dogs are excellent at learning by association.
It’s why dogs are able to learn human words and associate them with certain behaviors.
But sometimes, training gets difficult.
Maybe your dog just isn’t in the mood for training. Maybe he’s just not “getting it,” or you think he’s learning too slowly. Perhaps your dog performs well during training sessions, but can’t reproduce the behavior in a new environment.
All these things can make you throw your arms up in exasperation.
I myself ran into all these frustrations when trying to teach Yuna new commands.
Now, I’m here to share what I’ve learned.
Over the course of having her, I’ve picked up and compiled this list of 12 dog training tips and tricks that have helped us get better results. All tips promote humane training methods that will only improve the bond you have with your dog.
Grab a snack and listen up, because this will be on the Canine Good Citizen test!
Seriously though, 4,000 words of dog training wisdom ahead.
7 General Tips For Dog Training Sessions
We’ll assume you already know the basics of how training works. And there is no shortage of videos and tutorials that will show you how to teach your dog any trick.
So I won’t bore you with “beginner” dog training tips, or tips that are only specific to certain commands.
Instead, the following 7 general dog training tips will convey a mindset–guidelines for how you should conduct your training sessions.
1. Use Short Sessions, With High Frequency
I realized pretty early on that Yuna tended to lose interest in a training session after a couple of reps.
It’s not her, or any dog’s fault–some dogs, especially puppies, have a pretty short attention span.
Drag a training session on too long, and your dog will start exhibiting canine fatigue.
So it’s not the lengthy, arduous training session that will get you results.
In fact, quite the opposite: your dog will learn faster with short training sessions done with higher frequency.
Practically, with Yuna and me, this means training sessions of no longer than 5 minutes a pop. Some sources go on to suggest the magic number is 1 or 2 minutes per session.
Keeping sessions short and sweet will keep training light and fun for the both of you, and give your dog time to digest new concepts they’ve learned.
From then on, it’s all consistency and habit. After many sessions over time, you’ll see much better results.
2. Timing Is Everything: Speed Matters
I am a fan of the Simpawtico Dog Training channel on YouTube. I binged their videos when I was trying to figure out how to train Yuna in the early weeks, and they continue to be one of my top sources of tips and information for all things dog training.
Fairly recently, they dropped a video describing the importance of speed and patience in dog training. It’s an excellent video which I highly recommend checking out.
We’ll talk speed first. Speed, you see, is everything.
During a training session, when your dog exhibits a desired behavior, you have a very small time window (ideally, right when they do the behavior, not a fraction of second late) to mark and reward it.
Unfortunately, most people just aren’t fast enough.
Most commonly, they’re fumbling with the treat in their hands, either trying to get it out of their pockets or trying to break it into a small enough piece to reward their dog.
Meanwhile, your dog has already forgotten what he’s done right!
Improve Your Reaction Time
You need to ensure that you’re marking a dog’s good behavior the second they show it, especially if you’re teaching them something new.
Part of this is your own skill as a dog trainer: how quickly you can notice your dog’s good behavior.
Dedicate your attention fully onto your dog during each session. Focus on timing your markers and rewards as best you can.
Use A Treat Pouch & Easy To Break Treats
The other part of this is the prep work you can do with treats.
Firstly, we highly recommend using a treat pouch you can wear around your waist. Doing so gives you a big pocket to hold all your treats (no more tight jeans pockets), that’s easily accessible no matter where you’re conducting your training.
We recommend the Paw Lifestyles treat pouch.
Also pick a treat that’s easy to break into small pieces. We always preferred using real cooked chicken breast meat–super easy to shred then break with your fingers.
3. Set Realistic Expectations: Be Patient!
The Simpawtico Dog Training video we shared in the last tip contained a quote from entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk: “Micro speed, macro patience.”
While he was speaking from a business context, this sort of mindset applies to dog training as well.
Again, to quote the Simpawtico video, speed is for the short term. This means your feedback needs to be lightning fast.
Patience is for the long term–execution of the correct dog techniques will give you results over time.
Part of the way you implement that patience in a micro dog training session is by setting realistic expectations.
Many normal dog behaviors, such as barking, digging, and jumping are particularly irksome to us humans.
But you’re not going to change these behaviors overnight. Keep in mind that you may have inadvertently reinforced certain bad behaviors over years of having your dog, and changing them will take time!
So our tip is to focus on making one tiny improvement in your dog, one training session at a time.
Case Study: Yuna's Sit Pretty
I experienced firsthand the need for patience when trying to teach Yuna sit pretty.
In addition to sit pretty just being an adorable trick, I could also have Yuna strike the pose in her Instagram photos!
But the training was rough.
Many online videos will suggest bringing your dog to a sit, holding a treat above their nose, and luring their front paws off the ground to reach it.
Yuna was unique. She never followed lures for whatever reason. The moment I raised the treat a bit too high, she’d give up on it, no matter how tasty the reward.
So instead of expecting her to her both paws up in the first few training sessions, I took a step back.
During mealtime, I’d put Yuna in a sit, then feed her kibble by hand, holding it just above her nose. I did this for around 5 minutes before letting Yuna eat out of the bowl at her leisure.
Once she got comfortable with that, I could hold the treat ever so slightly higher, until she lifted one paw.
And then one paw became two paws. And as she built up her core strength, she was able to lift both paws up the ground and hold her balance.
How long did the whole process take? For Yuna, it was over a month.
In fact, it took a week of holding her kibble slightly above her snoot for her to even get to the point where she was willing to lift one paw!
This sort of patience, paired with speed in issuing the reward in the micro, gave me the sit pretty I was looking for.
Sure, she does it a bit lazily at times, but it’s still so freakin’ cute.
All this goes to show that the accumulation of positive experiences over many training sessions will ultimately give you the best results. Don’t set the bar too high at first.
4. Start With A High Value Treat To Lure, Phase Out Over Time
When you first teach your dog a command, you typically want to make sure you have the tastiest, juiciest rewards on hand.
After all, if our dogs have been jumping on people their entire lives, then succeed in keeping all four paws on the ground, it only makes sense that you offer your dog a jackpot.
Not all treats are created equal. You can use this to your advantage using a technique I learned from Simpawtico Dog Training called Reward Scaling.
Using the highest value treat in the beginning can significantly speed up the learning process.
However, as your dog gets better at the new behavior, it’s important not to overuse these treats.
Just as you should take baby steps in training a new command, you should also take baby steps in scaling down your rewards.
After all, you want your dog to eventually obey a command no matter the circumstance. Especially when you don’t have a delicious piece of meat in your hand.
Many dog owners proclaim their dogs do well in a classic, controlled training session with treats, but then ignore all commands when outside.
Well, of course! You don’t just go from jackpot to zero.
Slowly phasing out that high-value treat over many training sessions is the way to go. For example, we usually go from real meat (chicken) to treats (Milk Bone or this peanut butter homemade recipe), to kibble, to just the marker and some affectionate petting.
Speaking about markers, let’s discuss that next.
5. Adjust Your Markers Appropriately
I think this tip is not discussed nearly enough on the Internet!
A “marker” in dog training is simply the way we communicate to our dog that we like what they’re doing.
Specifically, different dog owners tend to have different “marker words.” This can be anything from an enthusiastic “Yes!” to a clicker (a commonly used marker), to a thumbs up (for deaf dogs).
Immediately after the marker word, a reward, usually food, is given.
A marker simultaneously acts as a confirmation of good behavior, and a bridge to allow you extra time to give your dog the real food reward.
When we see our dogs do something right, we tend to deliver our marker word with overflowing emotion.
While this can be good for some dogs (and seen as “Marker Scaling,” similar to Reward Scaling we discussed in the previous point), for others this can be too much.
For some shy dogs like Yuna, this can even scare them.
Though Yuna is much more confident now, she was apprehensive of many things when I first got her.
She’d dash away whenever someone in the house raised their voice. She’d be too scared to even attempt to catch anything in her mouth. Even the squeakers in toys totally freaked her out.
In light of all this, jumping up and becoming super animated whenever Yuna learned something new actually scared her more than it encouraged her.
She saw the outburst of emotion as frightening, and I may have actually accidentally discouraged her from learning the new behavior.
It all comes down to knowing your dog well and whether they’d respond well to your marker word, or if you need to change things up to achieve better bonding with them.
When I look at how long it took Yuna to learn commands like “shake” or “sit pretty,” it almost certainly was due to an inappropriate marker.
She performs much better now with more tone-neutral markers.
Consider A Clicker
When it comes to markers, consistency is also very important.
Our voices can vary in pitch and tone; we may even mix up our markers. All this can actually confuse your dog and leave them guessing as to what behaviors are appropriate.
That’s where a clicker may come in handy. Because the sound of the click is so distinct, it helps communicate to your dog that you liked what they did.
This consistency often helps speed up training for many dogs.
However, the clicker itself isn’t anything special.
You still need to properly time your clicks (remember tip #2 on speed?). And should you commit to clicker training, you need to do this consistently over many training sessions (tip #3: patience!).
We recommend this PetSafe Clik-R Trainer to anyone interested in starting clicker training. It slips right onto your finger so you can nail your timing down perfectly.
6. Raise The Bar Slowly: Set Your Dog Up For Success
We’ve alluded to this many times in the previous tips already, but you should always raise the bar slowly with your dog. Take baby steps!
Many dog owners already know this, but putting it into practice is the hard part.
Yet it’s so important, lest you want to end your training sessions to end early due to frustration!
Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out what the baby steps are for a given task. That’s why we’ll step through how we’d break down two classic dog tricks into baby steps.
Taking Baby Steps: Sit Pretty
Back to Yuna’s trademark sit pretty!
Suggested baby steps:
- Get your dog into a normal sit
- Lure your dog’s head above level and give them a treat
- Hold a treat above your dog’s head, far enough that they’d need to stretch slightly to reach it
- Same as before, but held high enough that they’d need to lift up one paw slightly to reach it
- Same as before, but held high enough that they’d need to lift both paws up slightly to reach it
- Now that both paws are temporarily lifted off the ground, lure them up then encourage them to hold the position.
- Slowly extend the length of time held in sit pretty position.
Taking Baby Steps: Roll Over
And now for a more recent trick that Yuna’s learned: roll over.
Suggested baby steps:
- Get your dog into a down
- Get your dog into a “play dead” position (this itself could be broken into a few baby steps!)
- Position yourself at your dog’s stomach area (so your dog can’t simply get up). With your dog on their side, hold a treat such that they need to rotate their head toward the other direction to get the treat.
- Same as before, but held such that they need to rotate their entire body slightly to get the treat.
- Same as before, but held such that they need to do a full roll over to get the treat.
- Do the same three steps above, but without positioning yourself at your dog’s tummy.
- Once this basic roll over is mastered, and your dog generalizes the meaning of “roll over,” instead of doing the trick from a “play dead,” do it from a down.
- Same as before, but doing it from a stand.
I felt that positioning myself at my dog’s stomach area was crucial in getting Yuna to attempt a roll over. Otherwise, she’d always just get up from her play dead position.
Taking Baby Steps: The Environment
Just because your dog knows “sit” indoors, doesn’t mean they know what “sit” means at the local dog park.
In general, dogs are bad at generalizing information, especially with an environment change.
So, for the best results, be sure to take baby steps with regards to the training environment as well.
Starting with a distraction-free, indoor location is best for teaching a new concept.
Slowly adding distractions, and bringing the command outside will help your dog with generalization.
7. Have Treats Readily Available At All Times
In order to faithfully execute tip #2, speed, you need to be quick to react and give feedback–even outside of a traditional training session.
Part of being a good dog trainer is simply catching your dog when they’re behaving well, and rewarding immediately.
As you might imagine, this is tough to do without treats on hand!
That’s why whenever you’re introducing a new behavior to your dog, we recommend wearing this Paw Lifestyles treat pouch around your waist so you always have a treat ready.
"Concepts" vs. "Commands"
Having treats readily available is especially important for behaviors that are more like “concepts,” rather than “commands.”
What’s a more concrete example of this?
Words such as “sit,” “down,” or “roll over” are pretty one-dimensional in meaning. Train “sit” using classical methods and over time, your dog will know what it means. These are commands.
Other words, such as “settle” or “quiet,” are more complex. If you want your dog to calm down and you say “settle,” there isn’t a clear action that embodies that word.
It’s more a general behavior than a clear-cut command. For the purposes of this tip I call these concepts.
When you’re trying to teach a concept to a dog, you’ll likely catch them doing the right behavior just on their own.
In the case of “settle,” there’s no way your dog is crazy and energetic 100% of the time.
If and when they do decide to lay down and take a break, this is when you randomly reward them and issue the word “settle,” so that they learn the meaning of this word over time.
Save the hassle of reaching for a treat in these scenarios. Use a wearable treat pouch.
5 Dog Training Tips For When They're Just Not Getting It
The previous 7 tips and tricks applied more to developing the right mindset to use with your dog during training sessions.
These next 5 tips will help you out the next time you think your training session is going nowhere.
8. If Your Dog Is Too Energetic, Consider Exercising First
First things first. Some dogs are just so full of energy that they won’t even sit still during a training session.
Before you launch into dog training mode, one of the simplest tips is just to get all that excess energy out of their system.
Walking your dog is a great start, but some dog breeds require a little more than that. Zak George suggests that teaching fetch to your dog could eliminate up to 90% of their behavioral problems.
So this is a simple tip, but an effective one. A dog that is already well-stimulated will retain what they learn from a training session much better and give you better results.
9. Don't Repeat The Command Ad Nauseam
Does your dog just refuse to do a command sometimes?
Sure, that’s never good news. But one of the worst ways to respond is to repeat it over and over, ad nauseam.
Simpawtico Dog Training pointed this out in this video, where the dog was ignoring his own name. However, this applies to pretty much any command out there as well.
In fact, it’s been proven scientifically. When a signal is repeated over and over with no meaning attached, it becomes background noise.
Or worse, you might end up inadvertently reinforcing the ignorance!
10. Go Back To The Basics: Something Your Dog Already Knows
So what should you do instead?
To start with, take one baby step back. Go back to the basics–something your dog already knows very well.
This could be their name, or a simple command like sit. If your dog doesn’t have these two things as second nature, you need to do more work on that first!
Taking a step back will get their attention back onto you. You’re then free to try the original command again.
Distractions In The Environment
If your dog won’t even listen to your basic commands, then usually it’s because they’re distracted by something in the environment.
When your dog gets fixated on an external distraction, any command you try to issue just gets drowned out in the background.
If you’ve got a particularly high-value jackpot treat at the ready, you can attempt to lure their attention back onto you right then and there.
However, if not, then continuing to issue commands in the face of this distraction won’t do you any good.
You’ll have to remove your dog from the distracting environment until you’re far enough away from it such that he’ll listen.
Then, you can slowly make your way back towards the distraction, stopping every few feet to test again for obedience.
This is a great way to turn random distractions that often occur during a typical walk into a short, impromptu training session.
11. Be Careful With How You Issue Negative Reinforcement Or Positive Punishment
We often hear about positive reinforcement as a great way to train our dogs humanely and effectively.
- The “positive” in this context refers to applying something (such as a food reward, or petting) that was not previously there.
- The “reinforcement” in this context refers to encouraging a behavior.
In the psychology world of operant conditioning, there are three other quadrants of consequences. Here, we’ll focus on two of them: negative reinforcement and positive punishment.
- Negative reinforcement occurs when something is taken away (“negative”) to encourage a behavior (“reinforcement”). An example by some trainers is to apply pain to the dog, and end that pain when the dog complies with the behavior.
- Positive punishment is when something is applied (“positive”) to discourage a behavior (“punishment). One example is when you give your dog a shock using an E-collar when he pulls on the leash.
Sometimes, without meaning to, we wander away from positive reinforcement into these other quadrants.
In a fit of rage, a dog owner might rub their dog’s nose in poop or pee after what seems to be the thousandth accident.
This fits under positive punishment. It also doesn’t work.
While it’s probably near impossible to use positive reinforcement techniques 100% of the time, there is always a humane way to train your dog to do a certain command.
A way that doesn’t lead to fear or aggression later down the road. Be careful with how you might accidentally be using negative reinforcement or positive punishment in your training sessions.
12. Pick Up The Training A Different Time
If all else fails, just give your dog a break!
Our #1 tip in this article was to use short training sessions with high frequency. There is no harm in cutting a session short.
Don’t force your dog to have perfect attention every single time. They can get burned out too (we talked about canine fatigue earlier in the article).
Simply pick up the training again in a future session. This one session may have flopped, but it’s more important to have a wider outlook and the patience to see it through.
In this post, we’ve shared 12 dog training tips and tricks that you can use in your next training sessions to get results.
Everything we compiled in this article is taken from and used by some of the best dog trainers out there.
You can be sure that all these tips will not only help you with your training, but also build a better relationship with your dog.
Because in the end, that’s what this training is all about right?