how to train a dog at home
Training your pet goes beyond preventing accidents inside your home; it provides essential mental stimulation, enhances your bond and can even keep your pet safe.
It's important to start training as soon as possible to instill good habits. Concentrating can be hard for pets at any age, so keep each session around 15 minutes long.
You shouldn’t attempt more than one session a day. Learning something new can be overwhelming and exhausting, particularly with young pets. Start off slow by working on a handful of commands 1-2 times a week.
Dog training tips & tools
Let’s start with the basics. Whether you’re preparing a show dog or simply improving life at home, every pet can benefit from consistent training, the right equipment and positive reinforcement.
Consistency is key
Pets learn through repetition. From your scheduled walks to the commands and rewards you use, it’s important that you remain consistent throughout your pet’s training. Changing your approach will send mixed messages and cause confusion.
Before our pets learn to associate words with desired actions, they rely on our voice to distinguish between right and wrong. Use voice tone in training to your advantage. For instance, if you speak in firm, low manner, your pet will know you mean business. Contrarily, if you speak in a soft, high pitch, your pet will recognize it’s time for affection.
Building verbal communication skills is critical in controlling your pet even when they are out of sight. In the event of a house fire or a natural emergency, your furry loved one’s ability to follow verbal instructions could mean the difference in getting them to safety.
With that said, many parents and trainers choose to incorporate hand gestures to compliment verbal cues. This helps when the environment is especially noisy or if you are training a deaf dog.
Dog training equipment
Even the best trainers rely on certain gear for the best results. If you’re unsure what would work best for your pet, speak with your veterinarian. They can recommend potty training essentials, pain-free training collars as well as treats that won’t pack on the pounds.
House-training comes down to three things: confinement, clean-up and rewards.
One of the perks to crating is that it reinforces your lessons even when you can't be there to supervise. Our pets don’t want to smell their waste any more than we do, and being confined discourages them from relieving themselves. However, it only works if you get the appropriate crate size.
The crate should be large enough for your dog to comfortably lie down, stand up and turn around in. Any larger, and your pup won’t think twice about going in the corner.
Know that mistakes happen when potty training a puppy. Invest in quilted pee pads with water-resistant backing for better absorbency and less clean up. Today, there are even eco-friendly and odor-controlling options. For a more natural, plastic-free solution, disposable indoor grass is a great alternative. The texture will help make the transition to going outdoors less confusing for your pup.
Don’t punish your pet for an accident. Instilling fear into your pet may cause more accidents not to mention weaken your relationship. Simply tell them “no” and take them outside to eliminate. If you praise your pet whenever they do successfully go outside, you can expect your pet to work that much harder for your positive attention.
Part of learning the correct place to go potty is learning where not to go. Since pets tend to reuse the same spots, it’s important you remove any lingering pheromones from an indoor accident. Stain and odor eliminating sprays and powerful enzymatic cleaners remove odors as well as those underlying pheromones that would signal a place to pee.
Training harnesses and collars
When training your pet how to be a good boy or girl on the leash, consider your walking gear. The breed’s size and habits will largely determine which leash, collar and harness work best for your dog.
It can be difficult to teach your dog not to pull on the leash, but thankfully the right equipment can help. A no-pull harness will gently remind your dog not to pull by redirecting their attention. Speak with your veterinarian or a local trainer to figure out what gear to invest in as well as tips to calm leash reactive dogs.
There are a few products you should avoid. Not only do retractable leashes teach bad leash behavior by letting your pet roam far away from you, they are dangerous. The reeling line can tangle your pet or worse, lock up while your pet is in harm’s way. No-shock training tools which cause physical discomfort can be damaging to your pet’s wellbeing and can even provoke retaliation.
When it comes to motivating your pet, high value treats work like a charm. These tasty bites should be something your pet really enjoys but only gets during training sessions. Before you run out to the pet store, there are a few things to consider.
First, take stock of your pet’s calorie intake. You can either choose something low calorie to prevent weight gain or ask your veterinarian how you can safely reduce your pet’s meal portions to balance out training time.
Factor in the size of the treats. If you can, break the training treats into smaller bites. Even large dogs should be given small rewards. Pets gobble high value treats out of excitement and eagerness to earn another. By giving small treats, you’ll prevent choking and allow them to quickly prepare for the next command.
Your treats should also be soft. Soft treats are easier for your pet to get down quickly and digest.
Finally, smelly treats – think cheese or shredded meat – keep your pet’s attention on you and the task at hand even in a distracting environment. Always check with your vet first before feeding your pet “human food.”
Did you know that puzzles and long-lasting chews will often train the mouthiness out of your dog by giving them something to do with their mouth? Knowing what your pet likes and when to use certain treats is half the battle, so try a few vet-approved options out. Train before mealtime when your pet is hungry and eager for treats.
Dog training methods
There are many training methods which can make it difficult to pick what’s best for your pet. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most popular approaches.
Many pet parents find that using a clicker efficiently communicates and encourages good behavior. That’s because the clicker training method concentrates on what your dog is doing right.
You don’t have to go out and spend money on a special device though. You can use a clicking pen or snap your fingers. For deaf dogs, you may try using a small flashlight.
Clicker training makes a game out of learning new things. Once they know what signals good behavior, they’ll be on the hunt for more ways to impress you and earn a treat.
The hardest part to this method is getting the timing right. It’s important to signal a job well done immediately after your pet has completed the task. This will help your pet figure out what you expect and what will earn your attention.
Positive reinforcement training
Using positive reinforcement is a great way to change undesirable behavior and teach better habits. The concept is simple: shower your pet in praise and give a treat when they do something correct.
When it comes to handling bad behavior, don’t scold and never use physical force. Instead, simply ignore it. Repeatedly punishing your pet will result in a lack of confidence and make them dread training time. It may take some patience, but your pet will eventually learn what you expect.
Using this method will help earn your pet’s respect rather than their fear.
Dog obedience training commands
Learning to “sit” is often the easiest for your dog to learn first. Next, try teaching your dog to “come” and “leave it". Some commands can be fun! Teaching your dog to fetch can feel like playtime for your pup all while making sure they get their daily dose of exercise.
One of the most common issues that families seek out additional training is excessive or aggressive barking. Remember this your pet’s natural way of communication, so it's important to teach them when it’s okay and when it is not. The first step in getting your dog to be quiet is to understand why your dog is barking. Once you discover the reason, it makes it easier to keep your dog quiet at home.
When your pet has mastered the basics and worked out any behavioral issues, you can tackle fun tricks, including how to train your dog to walk on a treadmill.
Incorporate games into training
It’s important to challenge your pet with new things. Activities like playdates with other dogs can keep them engaged and allow them to make friends. Just as with children, incorporating games will make learning fun.
Agility training is a great way to get rid of excess energy. The obstacle course will challenge your pet’s mind and body. It will also improve their listening skills as they rely on verbal cues from you to navigate the course. Interested in learning more? Check out our tips for flyball and agility for dogs.
Still unsure how to get started? Check out Petplan’s new YouTube series – starring certified dog trainers Nicole Laracco-Skeehan and Kelsey Rich from Philly Unleashed. You’ll learn how to teach a dog to sit, stay, down, come and so much more.