So you want to teach your dog good manners all by yourself — that’s great news! Working with your dog can be a ton of fun, but having said that, there are some important points to consider when pursuing DIY training.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow:
1. Skip outdated methodologies. Dog training has come a long way in the past 20 years. In fact, scientific research has debunked many commonly held training beliefs, like pack theory and the need to demonstrate one’s alpha authority over a dog by using force. Modern, dog-friendly training techniques instead encourage dog and handler to work in harmony, no matter how challenging the behavior in question may be. There’s no need to drag out the heavy equipment like choke chains and prong collars … instead, train your dog using a science-based methodology that’s fun for both ends of the leash, like clicker training.
2. Incorporate the right kind of rewards. People often say they want their dog to work for them, as if using anything other than verbal praise is a sign of relationship failure. While praise is a wonderful secondary reinforcement, it’s important to use something that your dog absolutely adores when you start training. For most dogs, that means using moist, high-value treats. Keep in mind, using treats during training won’t make you or your dog a slave to them (another common concern). While treats are important during the early stages of training, once your dog fully understands the behavior you’re teaching him, you can wean down and use them to only occasionally reward your dog for a job well done. When incorporated properly, treats are an excellent way to quickly and efficiently acknowledge your dog in a way that’s more reinforcing than a simple pat on the head.
3. Don’t expect too much too soon. If your dog will come to you when you call him in the house, that’s great. However, that doesn’t mean that your dog completely understands what the word “come” means in every scenario. Keep in mind that your dog’s initial basic understanding of a new cue doesn’t equate to total mastery, so don’t expect perfect responses to “sit,” “down” and “come” at the dog park right away. Expecting too much too soon is a hidden pitfall that frustrates many dog owners. Dogs need to learn their new training vocabulary in a variety of environments amid a variety of distractions before you can consider a behavior to be truly understood. You can help your dog increase his fluency by practicing in as many different locations as possible.
4. Stop problems before they get too big. Consider this scenario: You notice that your adolescent dog is growling every time you pass another dog on the street. You ignore it, hoping that your dog will grow out of it, only to discover that in time the growl has morphed into a scary, growl-bark-snap instead. Now what? It’s best to address any behavioral challenge as soon as you notice it starting to develop, whether it’s as typical as jumping on visitors at your home or as challenging as leash aggression toward people or dogs on the street. Letting a behavior take root gives your dog time to practice and perfect the incorrect responses, and can end up frustrating both of you when you finally decide to start working on the troubling behavior. It’s best to identify the problem right away and set a plan for dealing with it before it gets out of hand.
5. Remember: Your dog is never really finished training. It’s awesome that you taught your dog the basics of good household manners all by yourself — hooray for both of you! However, the fact is you’ll never be done with training. Did you move from the country to the city? Did you get a new kitten? Did you welcome a new baby into your family? All of these will likely require a refresher. Things change, we get lax, and our dogs can become forgetful, so the fact is you’ll probably have to do mini-sessions for the rest of your dog’s life to keep his skills up to snuff.