To get the most from any training program your puppy or dog is enrolled in, experienced trainers offer five tips for success.
Interestingly, the learning process for puppies and adult dogs is the same as for people. To master a skill, it takes motivation, the right mindset, time, patience, and practice for it to become second nature. Whether your dog has been enrolled in a private training program, or group classes with you, the same rules apply. Learning is not finished nor is a skill mastered after a few training sessions. Success takes consistent practice and real-world application.
Provide an outlet for the energy
“Create structure for your puppy or dog by setting a daily routine that provides an outlet for physical and mental energy,” said Jack Mitchell, training manager with Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center.
Set aside time throughout the day for active play. Tossing a ball or pulling on a rope toy, and brain games like a food puzzle or treat-dispensing ball provide your pup with opportunities to burn off extra energy. Physical and mental energy outlets create structure and foster engagement during training sessions.
Knowing the characteristics of the breed can help to understand the needs of your dog. Ball play is great for high-energy, working breeds like the Doberman. By releasing the toy, the dog learns that the action results in praise and added play.
“Make play training and training play so it’s something the dog really wants to do,” said trainer Mark Berkowitz with Holiday House Pet Resort.
Create the motivation to learn
Food can be a great motivator. Instead of presenting a bowl of kibble for a meal, have your puppy or dog earn the food. This practice promotes learning, offers mental exercise, and is also great for slowing down a fast eater. Hand feeding your dog the meal, instead of putting the bowl on the floor, increases the dog’s food motivation and the focus on you. When your dog successfully completes a command like SIT, offer a handful of food as a reward. Food puzzles encourage the dog to think. The task of finding the food increases the dog’s drive to be successful.
“That sense of frustration at wanting to find the food, builds drive and drive builds focus,” added Berkowitz.
If your puppy or dog is not motivated by food, a special toy–only played with during training–can offer the same drive to learn. Dogs loves praise and it can be a great motivator for dogs—such as working breeds–that thrive on pleasing their owner with a job well done.
Reward eye contact
Training is not just about the dog reacting to a command; training is about creating a bond of trust and friendship. The dog’s focus should be on you for cues on what to expect. A dog that is more interested in the distractions than being focused on you is not going to listen or learn. During play or practice, when your puppy or dog looks at you, reward that eye contact.
Make it second nature
“Training sessions are for learning the commands. Once you and your dog know the commands, then it’s time to practice with consistency during real-life situations,” said Mitchell.
When you set aside time for learning the commands, there should be several short sessions spread throughout the day. Typically, a training session would last 15 to 20 minutes—possibly less for puppies since their attention span is shorter than an adult dog.
“Always finish a training session with success. If you notice your puppy or dog getting tired, don’t abruptly end the training session. Work through any distractions to complete the skill successfully and end the time with praise,” said Mitchell.
Learning is not based on a few structured classes. Success takes repetition through the combination of play, focused training, and consistency every day for a skill to become second nature. Ways to achieve learning throughout the day and applying skills in real life situations can be accomplished by:
- Using kibble to practice SIT, DOWN, STAY, or reward for eye contact
- Asking the dog to SIT/STAY before going through a door, crossing a street, or greeting another person
- Having the dog SIT or STAY while putting on or taking off a harness or coat
When you practice skills throughout the day and during play sessions, then learning is fun and consistent. The goal is for your dog to know what to do and when, and be focused on you for what comes next.
Slowly introduce new distractions
When your puppy or dog is performing skills with a high rate of success, then it’s time to start introducing new distractions. Learning a skill in the same quiet room with no distractions will not translate well in a different, busier setting if the dog is not used to the new experience.
This is where continued socialization is key. Socialization is not just about play dates with other pups until a certain age is reached. Socialization includes an introduction to new experiences to establish a level of comfort and build confidence. The process includes hearing noises like a doorbell or vacuum cleaner, visiting places like a parking lot or the pet store, and experiencing situations like a car ride or entering a room full of people.
Work on skills such as SIT, STAY, or LEAVE IT…
- with different family members
- in different rooms, on a walk in the neighborhood, or at the veterinary office
- around different noises like kids playing, or cars driving by
To get the most from dog training classes, incorporate learning and practice into everyday life for the best outcome. Any training program is designed to lay the foundation for learning. It’s up to the owner (and family) to establish the relationship, practice (a lot), and be consistent so the skills become second nature to your dog.
Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center offers two popular training programs: the lodging-based Stay & Learn, and the daycare-based Play & Learn. Both comprehensive programs are customized to the training goals identified during the initial consultation. During training, the dog works with multiple trainers throughout each day of the program. The final training session includes the pet parent, and on-going support is available. For questions about the training program or to schedule a consultation, call 215-345-6960