Whether you are a first time dog owner or a seasoned one who could use a refresher in how to train your dog, sharing a language is the first step to ensuring a long and happy relationship with your pup.
Our dogs are incredibly smart! They have a powerful set of senses, love to have a job and are excellent at reading cues. Watching them make new discoveries and learn new tricks (especially if we catch it on camera) is the one of the best parts of being a pet parent.
Helping your dog learn a new command or a new trick creates a partnership like no other. Speaking a common language not only makes it easier for you to teach your dog what you would like him/her to do, it makes it far easier for your dog to learn what it is that you want. The best thing to remember when you first start training your dog is that he probably doesn’t speak English (or any other language other than dog) yet. Do your new friend a favor and break it down for them; learn to speak dog-lish:
- Add a hand signal
Not all species can inherently follow hand signals, but dogs can. Let your dog be a visual learner and help him understand your cues by attaching a hand signal to a word. Try keeping it simple with one handed gestures e.g., a stop sign with your hand for “stay”, a sweep up from your thigh next to your eye for “sit”, a sweep down from your eye to your thigh for “down”). These visual cues, when paired with words, are literally helping hands for your dog as he/she is learning the language of human-speak. Want to step it up a level and really impress your friends at the dog park? Maybe you’re bilingual and you want your dog to be too. As long as you use the same visual queues, even if the word changes, your dog can learn to understand any language.
- Use lots of positive reinforcement
Dogs learn by connecting both positive and negative experiences with specific tasks. If you make training fun, your dog will look forward to the training sessions. Using treats and lots of praise when teaching your dog, no matter what his/her age is, will help them become “trick” masters in no time. We think that using very small pieces of high value treats is the best way to capitalize on every training opportunity. Pro tip: every time your dog’s behavior is worthy of a treat, get their attention by touching their nose with the treat and then quickly bringing the treat up next to your eye. As your dog gaze follows the treat up to your eye and you have made eye contact, praise and give the treat. This kind of positive reinforcement while your dog is looking at you not only reinforces your bond with each other, it also helps your dog associate looking at you with positive guidance.
- Adjust your tone
Your dog has an excellent sense of hearing as well as an extraordinary sense of emotional awareness. How you are feeling coupled with how you speak to your dog can make or break your relationship. Always remember to adjust your tone of voice before you begin any training session. If your voice projects happiness, your dog will feel that and work even harder to please you.
- Learn the basics before the hard stuff
Teaching your dog sit, come, down, stay, off, and leave-it will lay a strong foundation for a myriad of other tricks (roll over, crawl, play-dead or anything else you can think of)! Sit and down are great to start with and will get your dog used to your style of hand signal, cadence and tone of voice. Come and stay are essential commands to learn if you have hopes of walking your dog off leash and they will help keep your dog safe in a number of potentially dangerous situations. Off will teach your pup not to jump on people and when to get off furniture. Leave it is a useful one to keep your dog from picking up things that don’t belong in their bellies. Once you and your dog have this basic vocabulary down, you will both be fluent in dog-lish, making the more complex tricks easier and just as enjoyable to master.
Looking for some specific training instruction? Check out our articles Knock-knock, bark-bark: How to Keep your Dog Calm when Visitors Arrive and 3 Easy Indoor Games that Become Impressive Outdoor Tricks.
You talkin to me?
If you want your dog to follow your commands, get his/her attention by calling their name first. A dog that’s looking at you, is more likely to pay attention to what you’re saying.