Whether you’ve just adopted a puppy or an adult dog, it’s important to start training him soon after you bring him home. Here are the top five behaviors and cues every dog should be taught.
Have you recently brought a new dog or puppy home, but don’t know where to start with his training? You are already providing him with the healthiest food, treats and toys. You know that positive training is essential for your journey to a well-behaved dog. But where do you begin? This article covers the most important cues and behaviors to teach your dog right out of the gate.
1. Prevent Common Behavior Problems
Number one may surprise you, but in all honesty it’s the most important aspect of training. Dogs are not surrendered to animal shelters because they don’t know how to sit. They are typically surrendered because they have some kind of anxiety or behavioral issue. Anxiety also leads to reactive behaviors such as lunging at the end of the leash, growling at strangers, or even biting. Instead of waiting for a problem to develop, you have the opportunity to be proactive in your dog’s training and greatly reduce the risk of a behavior problem sneaking in.
The concept is simple. You want to start conditioning your dog that “X” equals something of value. Let’s take bikes for an example. When you are out walking your dog, reward him with a treat every time you see a bicyclist. Do this often. What you are teaching your dog is that bikes lead to rewards, which leads to feeling good and looking to you for the reward. This training will help prevent your dog from barking or lunging at cyclists. Instead, he will be calm and collected and even look to you for his reward or guidance.
HINT: This training can and should be utilized for a variety of situations, such as thunder and other loud noises, vacuum cleaners, other dogs, kids, squirrels, etc.
Dogs go through a variety of fear periods during their first two years of life. By actively working at preventing anxiety, you are providing your canine with an important buffer should something big and scary really happen during that time. Prevention is always easier than a cure.
2. Teach Your Dog the Value of His Name
I’m not talking about the causal attention your dog may give you when you say his name. I’m talking about when you say his name around a distraction and he swiftly turns his head away from it to look up at you. How awesome is that?
- First, you need to start in a non-distracting environment when your dog is eager to interact with you. Place high value treats inside your pocket along with a small toy. Say your dog’s name once, in a singsong tone. The moment he looks in your direction, say “yes!”, then give him treats in succession and tell him what a smart dog he is. Wow — your dog just hit the mother lode for a very easy task!
- Your next job is to do this often throughout the day over the next week. No distractions, nice and easy, big payoff. If you find yourself in a situation where your dog doesn’t turn to you, do not repeat his name. Instead, take the toy out of your pocket and play with it by yourself. Let your dog see how much of a party he missed out on. Wait a minute or two, then say his name again in that singsong tone. I bet he’ll turn to you now! When he does, give him a big payoff of treats and the toy.
- Now that he’s getting the hang of it, slowly start to increase the distractions. Continue with high payout. Soon, you will have a dog who loves it when you say his name.
HINT: If you reach a stage where your dog is no longer getting it, decrease the distractions again.
3. Train Him to Sit
Training a dog how to put his butt on the floor when asked can be a huge benefit to his overall manners. If he’s sitting, he’s not jumping on you, diving for the food you dropped, or dashing out the door.
- Start with a treat in your hand. Place the treat next to your dog’s nose and slowly rock your hand up and over his head. You want to do this action slowly so the he follows the treat with his head and places his butt on the floor. The moment he does, say “yes!” and give him the treat. Repeat this process.
- Once he’s understanding the behavior, you can add a verbal cue. Say “sit”, present him with the lure, say “yes!” and treat. Continue this training throughout the day in various situations. Eventually, you will begin to slowly eliminate your hand gestures and just use your verbal cue.
HINT: If you find your dog is jumping up for the treat, your hand might be too high. Make sure your hand lure is very close to his nose. This will help prevent him from jumping up.
4. Teach Him to Stay
If your dog knows how to stay in place, your life will be so much easier. Think about it. If you want to wipe the mud off his feet and he doesn’t wiggle around while you’re doing it, the job will become a breeze.
- Start with your dog in a sit. Since everything is pretty new to him, go ahead and reward that behavior. While he’s sitting, give him a treat every second for a total of five treats. Then say “okay” and encourage him to get up. Do not give him a treat for getting up; you are teaching him that not moving gets the reward, and getting up is boring. Congratulations — you now have a one-second sit-stay!
- Repeat this step, but now give him a treat every two seconds. Sit (one second, two seconds) treat (one second, two seconds), treat — again for a total of five treats. Say “okay” for him to get up. Your dog has now just done a two-second sit-stay. Continue this process until your dog has a five second sit-stay for five treats.
HINT: The goal in teaching new behaviors is to teach your dog that he can win, and learn what is correct.
It’s now time to name this behavior “stay”. Ask him for a sit, then say “stay,” ount to five and treat. Repeat this for five treats, then say “okay.” Way to go! He’s doing a five-second sit-stay, five times. If your dog is getting up before he should, cut down your time intervals again.
5. Get Him to Drop It
Fetch isn’t much fun for us humans when the dog won’t drop the toy. That’s not to say it isn’t fun for him! However, teaching a dog to give up a toy or other object not only improves play, but also has the potential to prevent him from eating something he shouldn’t.
HINT: If you find your dog is getting into things he shouldn’t, double check your dog-proofing. The best way to teach him not to chew on valuable items is to no keep them within his reach. Management truly is a dog parent’s best line of defense.
We are going to teach your dog that dropping an object is a good thing. What you don’t want to teach him is that the fun is over if he drops something. That can easily lead to a dog who steals something, runs off to hide, and may turn into Cujo when you try to get it back
- Start with two identical toys. This reduces the likelihood of your dog valuing one over another. Toss the first toy down the hall. As your dog races to collect the toy, wiggle the second toy around, showing him how interesting it is. When he drops the toy that’s in his mouth, toss the toy you have in your hand. As he runs to get that one, you pick up the first toy. Again, wiggle the toy in excitement. Once he drops his, toss yours. Repeat.
- Now it’s time to have a little game of fetch and drop. When your dog is reliably dropping the first toy, say your “drop it” cue right before he does the behavior. You can play this game with food too. He has the toy; you show him the food treat; he drops the toy; you give him the treat and then toss the toy. Win-win for the dog!
These five important behaviors and cues form the foundation for further training, helping to ensure success while keeping the process fun.