How do I teach my dog a new trick?
So how long will it take for your dog to learn a new trick? We often say it’s not the dog we’re teaching but rather the owner. Mostly it’s our lack of understanding and communication skills that slow the task of training our dogs. The following are a few basic (but quick) dog training tips:
Keep training sessions short and sweet,
Just like kids, dogs don’t have long attention spans. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but an ideal average training session would be around 15 minutes or less. Within that session, you can work on one skill or switch between a few different skills. To keep things interesting, dogs can get bored quickly.
Read your dog’s mood
If your dog starts the training session strong, paying attention to you, responding to your commands, and participating in the training, but then starts getting distracted, take a break. Your dog may be getting overwhelmed. You might need to find a less distracting environment or make your training sessions shorter to start with (5 minutes instead of 10 minutes, for example).
Capture your dog’s attention
The first step is to get your dog’s full attention. This is best achieved by standing directly in front of your dog, and spend time getting them completely focused on you so they can see and hear you clearly. If this is proving difficult you could try holding a treat in your hand so that they know you have it, but also so that your dog cannot take it from your hand. Your dog will be curious about how they get the treat from your hand. You hopefully now have full attention. If not, you may need to try a less distracting environment, and the task for that environment is just getting their attention when you command it.
5 to 15 repetitions of one behavior and then doing 5 to 15 repetitions of another behavior.
You can also practice new skills and keep old ones polished by doing single repetitions at convenient times throughout the day. For example, before giving your dog a tasty treat, ask your dog to sit or lie down etc. to earn it.
Quit while you’re ahead.
Training sessions should always end on a good note, with a skill you know your dog can do well, and be sure to stop before either one of you gets tired, bored or frustrated.
For dogs, English is a second language. Dogs aren’t born understanding English. They can learn the significance of specific words, like “sit” and “walk” and “treat,” but when humans bury those familiar words in complex sentences, dogs sometimes have difficulty understanding.
They can also get confused when people use different words for the same thing.
For example, some people will confuse their dogs by saying, “down!” one day and “drop!” and/or include their name with the word another day. Then you wonder why your dog doesn’t respond the same way every time. When teaching your dog a cue or command, decide on just one word or phrase, and make sure you and your family use it clearly and consistently.
Take baby steps. Dogs, just like people, learn best when new tasks are broken down into small steps. Also, begin with an easy first step and increase difficulty gradually.
If you’re training your dog to stay, start by asking your dog to stay for just 3 seconds.
After some practice, try increasing the duration of the stay to 8 seconds. When your dog has mastered an 8-second stay, make things a little harder by increasing the time to 15 seconds. Over the next week or two, continue to gradually increase the duration of the stay from 15 seconds to 30 seconds to a minute to a few minutes, etc.
By training systematically and increasing difficulty slowly, you’ll help your dog learn faster in the long run.
You need to work on one part of a complex skill at a time. For example, sit and stay, requires you to train your dog to stay in a sitting position until you tell your dog to move (either until you tell them to come to you, or you return to them and tell them they can stop sitting and the task is over. You also need to teach them to stay while distracting things are going on around them.
You and your dog may get frustrated if you try to teach your dog too much at a time and this will result in it taking longer to teach them
Start with just one part of the skill and, when your dog has mastered that, add another part. For example, work on duration first. When your dog can sit-stay for a few minutes in a quiet place with no distractions while you stand right next to them, start training your dog to stay while you move away.
While you focus on that new part of the skill, go back to asking your dog to stay for just a few seconds again.
When your dog can sit and stay while you move around the room, you’re ready to slowly build up the duration of time they stay again. Then you can add the next part like, training in a more distracting environment. Again, when you make the skill harder by adding distraction, make the other parts of the skill easier i.e. duration and distance shorter for a while. Training in this manner sets your dog up to succeed.
If you run into trouble, go back a few steps If you’re training your dog to do something new and you stop making progress, you may have increased the difficulty of the skill too quickly.
Similarly, if you’re practicing a behavior your dog hasn’t performed in a while they may seem a rusty, and require your help to remind them.
If you run into training challenges like these, just refresh your dog’s memory by making the skill a little easier for a few repetitions. Go back to a step that you know your dog can successfully perform, and practice that for a while before trying to increase the difficulty again.
Dogs, learn very specifically and don’t automatically apply their knowledge in different situations and places as well as people do.
If you teach your dog to sit on cue in your kitchen, you may have a wonderfully trained kitchen dog, but, not outside. If you want your dog to perform the skills everywhere, you’ll need to practice them in multiple places like, your home, your backyard, out on walks, at friends’ houses, at the park and anywhere else you take your dog.
Reward your dog when they have completed a skill successfully. Rewards can be a dog treat such as a small piece of meat, purchased dog treat or patting them. Keep food rewards small and not too many, we don’t want to encourage obesity. All rewards should be given with a lot of praise and excitement, telling them they have done a good job. Remember the outside world such as the park has a more distractions and paying attention to you is much harder for your dog.
Make their reward worth working for, like small pieces of chicken or cheese, (smelly foods they like work best because their aware of them). Don’t forget food isn’t the only type of reward they love i.e. what about a chance to run off-leash with their buddies if you’re at an off-leash permissible area.
Keep in mind that what your dog considers a reward may change, some dogs are so distracted when out they don’t want to eat, or if they have just eaten a big meal, food may not be wanted at that time. A rub on their belly or a game of fetch or tug might be most rewarding.
Wean your dog off treats
When you first start training with the treat trick, give your dog a treat each time they complete the command you requested. Be sure you always offer enthusiastic praise as well. After a week or two, when your dog is reliably completing the trick for treats, offer the treats intermittently but continue to offer praise. You will (slowly) work towards getting the dog to complete the trick with no treat, just praise.
With patience and persistence, you and your dog can accomplish great things
Be patient, training your dog will take time and effort—but it can be a great deal of fun for you and them.