Our lovable, furry companions can be mischievous and naughty at times. The knee-jerk reaction is to shout “No!” or “Bad Dog!” but let’s face it, that rarely works. So we asked certified dog trainers to share some of their best training secrets, and we found it’s easier than you might think to get the results you want.
Offer high-value rewards
There’s nothing wrong with a well-deserved “Good boy!” and tummy rub, but they’re simply not as rewarding as that coveted, freeze-dried liver or another delicious doggie treat. You just need to find out what treat your dog will go crazy for when performing new or preferred behaviors. “Exploring your dog’s high-value food rewards is a lot of fun and part of the process,” says Russell Hartstein, certified dog behaviorist and trainer and CEO of Fun Paw Care. “Always carry a pouch or bag with your puppy’s daily allocation of food and lots of treats in it to teach your dog appropriate new behaviors.” Just be sure to consider these treats as part of your dog’s daily food allotment, or you may wind up with an overweight pup on your hands.
Train in a boring environment
Ever try teaching your fur baby something new at the dog park or while interacting with people? It probably didn’t go as well as expected. Here’s why: Too much distraction. “Initially, as with any new behavior, you want to start in a boring, non-distracting environment, typically a room inside your home with no toys, with your dog on a leash,” says Hartstein. And keep those high-value treats handy for rewards.
Stop yanking on the leash
Are you walking with your dog or is your dog walking you? If it’s the latter, forget about yanking the leash. It won’t work. “Dogs have an opposition reflex. You pull back, and they pull forward. They are not being stubborn or difficult. It’s built into the way a dog is designed,” says Hartstein. In other words, if a dog pulls and gets to where it wants to go, the dog is rewarded and will continue the behavior. The solution? Head back inside for some walking on the leash. “After your dog has walked successfully next to you many times in your home, advance to the backyard, then the front yard, then a few houses down, and etc.,” suggests Hartstein. Reward them for walking close to you.
Paws on the floor, please
We’re all suckers for cute puppies, and they’re just as excited to jump on us to receive the attention we give them. It may seem rude, but it’s important to tell everyone your fur baby comes into contact with that your pup is in training and they should only pay attention to him/her when they have settled down with all four paws on the floor. “When a new person wants to greet my puppy I ask my puppy to sit (or stand) and then offer them treats while the person is petting them,” says Hartstein.
“Leave it” is better
Dogs are attracted to things that repulse us, like food that fell out of a garbage can or goose poop. Besides being gross, objects dogs pick up are potentially harmful. Harstein says the “leave it” command is more effective than “drop it.” It makes sense—”leave it” is preventative, while “drop it” means it’s already too late. Again, practice in a boring environment and not on the street where distractions abound. “I do many iterations of a behavior before we walk on the overstimulating and distracting streets where a dog may pick up something dangerous or unwanted,” says Hartstein.
Digging is a natural and fun activity for dogs—we just don’t appreciate it when they do it in our yards or gardens. The solution for dogs that love to dig is to give them a place to do it. “Set up a sandbox or a designated area where you encourage and reward your dog for digging. That will also keep them out of your vegetable garden or flower bed,” suggests Hartstein. You may even want to hide a few toys in the dirt for them to find as a way to reward them for digging in their designated spot.
Teach them where to poop
You’re a good parent and always have poop bags on hand but it’s still kind of embarrassing when your dog pops a squat on your neighbor’s front lawn while they’re sitting on the front porch. Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Just teach them where to poop. “Guide your dog to an area where you want them to poop, wait a few minutes, and don’t play or speak with them. Allow them to sniff and do their business and reward them heavily for eliminating by immediately giving them many high-value food rewards,” says Harstein. Make sure you also know these etiquette rules all dog owners should follow.
Let them linger after peeing or pooping
It may be easier to open the door and let your pup out for a quick potty break, but you’ll end up with poop land mines everywhere. “Keep your dog on a leash so that they get used to eliminating when you are close by,” says Hartstein. The trick is to reward them with high-value treats when they go, but don’t rush back inside the second they are done, which is often seen as a punishment, and dogs quickly learn to hold it in, so they don’t have to go back inside. “Instead, have them poop immediately after going outside and then take them for a nice long walk as an additional reward for going pee and poop on cue in your preferred location,” suggests Harstein.
Calm their fears
We expect dogs to bark when they’re excited or if someone knocks on the door, but a vacuum or hair dryer? Why would they bark at an inanimate object? Donna Culbert, dog trainer, CPDT-KA, and owner of Donna’s Do Right Dogs, says barking is also a way dogs communicate fear. “Dogs typically bark at vacuum cleaners and blow dryers because they make loud noises and they move. Sometimes your dog’s prey drive kicks and he must hunt down the Dyson in the living room! Slow desensitization will help your dog acclimate to it,” Culbert says. To do this, leave the object (unplugged and powered off) in a room with treats sprinkled around it and let your pooch investigate it on its own time. Then, pick up the object and move it around, away from your dog, giving treats for calm behavior. Next, turn the object on, but keep it stationary. Once your dog has accepted the object under all those circumstances, reward them for calm behavior and you should be able to use the object without any barking.
The reward must equal the joy
What kind of reward is it if the command “Come!” is followed by going inside and being told to lie down? Culbert says the reward must equal the joy of the activity your dog is leaving. For example, chasing cars is fun, especially for herding breeds, but since they’re not exactly herding sheep in the meadow, it’s not safe. “Instead, pair your ‘come’ command with a squeaky toy or ball and then have your dog chase you. When he reaches you, play tug for a minute and then let him have the toy,” says Culbert.
Can your dog be trusted to stay home alone without a crate? If she is getting into things while you’re still at home, probably not. On the other hand, if she isn’t destroying things, then full independence from the crate is possible, says Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer with Rover.com. When Ellis was training her dog, Rossi, she first kept some rooms off limits. (You can do this by shutting doors or buying a baby gate or two.) “This gave Rossi less room to roam and less room to find items to play with,” Ellis says. Conduct a few test runs for a limited period of time. If all goes well, you can try leaving for a longer period of time.
Pet, don’t pat
Guess what? Dog aren’t crazy about us patting them on the head while saying, “Good boy.” “Patting on the head is generally a punishment for most dogs and most dogs merely tolerate being patted on the head,” says Harstein. Try rubbing the side of your dog, their chest, or behind their ears instead.
Don’t say “NO” when they whine
You know your pup is feeling all right—a game of fetch, dinner, and potty time were all accomplished—but for some reason, she’s looking at you with those puppy eyes and whining. Ellis shares that dogs can whine for a number of reasons, like boredom, anxiousness, excitement, or just wanting some attention. “The best method to end attention whining is to ignore it completely,” she says. “For some dogs, even saying ‘no’ feels rewarding because they got your attention.” When your pup does stop whining, Ellis suggests rewarding the behavior with a treat to instill that no whining means attention and whining means the fun is over.
Put an end to begging
Teach your dog to go to “her spot” during mealtime to prevent obnoxious barking or begging during dinner, says Ellis. Her recommendation? “Once your dog is in her place, you can say hello, give her some scratches and a treat. Practice having her stay on her new special dinner time area. While she’s there, give her something tasty to chew on like a marrow bone, stuffed Kong, or bully stick.” If she comes over to the table, just politely lure her back to her spot. Be consistent in training and you’ll get results.
How to play nice with others
Socialization skills (with other dogs and humans) are best taught during puppyhood, but regardless of age, the experience has to be fun and not forced. “Attaching positive associations is the best way to make friends. If your dog loves tennis balls, reward social interaction with a quick game of fetch,” says Culbert. Of course, you’ve made a friend forever if a new person offers a treat too!
Article originally seen on Reader’s Digest.