Who’s a Good Dog? 8 Dog Training Tips You Need To Know
Updated: Feb 22
Keira Moore, PH-D, BCBA-D
You did it – you’re a dog owner! Now it's time to make sure your pup turns into your new best friend instead of your worst nightmare. Knowing where to start with dog training can be daunting. Whether your new dog is a purebred puppy with a champion bloodline or a rescue mutt with an unknown history, they all still need to learn the rules of your home, and their new life. You both need to learn how to communicate with each other. This can be especially tricky if you're one of the millions of people, like me, who got your new furry friend during the pandemic. As life returns to some semblance of normal, it's time to make sure our dogs are prepared to jump back into the real world too. Dog training can seem cumbersome and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be! Here are 8 of the most essential dog training tips you should start thinking about right now:
1. Get Their Tail Wagging
Before starting any kind of training with your dog, you need to know what gets them excited. Does Bella have a favorite treat, or will she devour anything? Does Charlie like to play tug, fetch, or Frisbee? Maybe Lady loves a good belly rub or some soothing praise. The most essential first step in training is knowing their preferences. Not all dogs are the same - Sadie’s favorite activity might be scary or annoying to Spike.
Like humans, just because dogs like something, they might not be willing to work for it or might only like it in specific contexts. For instance, my dog Frida loves a good tug of war session with her Lambchop toy. However, she has made it clear, ONLY when she initiates it, ONLY when she is in the mood, and ONLY on our living room carpet. I've tried to bring Lambchop to the park, in the car, or to a friend's house, and she looks at me like I've lost my mind. Lambchop is not a good reward for Frida, even though she likes him. Frida will, however, work very hard even for the tiniest morsel of kibble, so we use food as her reward. Start by making a list of what excites your dog, then test those things out in different places - is your dog still excited by it when there are distractions around? Keep trying. It's a fun part of getting to know your new best friend! It might be helpful to find two or 3 special rewards so Rocky doesn't get bored with peanut butter. Once you've found that special something, you're ready for tip number 2.
2. Rewards Over Punishment
Once you've found the motivation, use it to reward good behavior and start playing detective! Pay attention to Duke – when he's doing things you like or want, make sure he knows it! The most straightforward and meaningful communication you can have with Tank is to provide an immediate reward for doing good things. When you are the source of lots of fun and exciting things for your dog when they are good, you will strengthen good behavior your bond at the same time. Luna will see you as the source of all good things, which will make her more likely to pay attention and want to be around you.
Avoid punishing your dog for bad behavior. This is never a good recommendation. Save all of the showing "domination" and "discipline" for the movies, unless you intend to steal Ace's women. Punishment can scare your dog and hurt your bond with them, and it doesn't really help to teach much other than to be afraid of you. When you punish Zeus for barking at the mail carrier, all you are teaching him is, "don't do that!" You've just left poor Zeus to guess what they should do instead….and he probably isn't going to guess right, especially in a scary or stressful situation. He might remember not to bark the next time he sees the mailman but might still think that mail carrier is a creep. Next time he might decide to try biting him instead!
If Diesel is being a bad dog, think about what you would like him to do instead of the bad behavior. Take the time to teach your best friend how they should act. Sure beats yelling at poor Princess to "BE QUIET!" every time she gets excited at the kids riding their bikes and wakes up the neighborhood (it doesn't seem to be working)! For example, when you see the kids coming, ask Princess to lay down and reward her with her favorite things and praise. Practice as much as possible, and reward it when it happens. Remember, nobody likes to work for free, even dogs, so when Fido is learning something new, pay him a decent wage, so he keeps it up!