Dog Obedience Training Tips – Making Training Stick for LIFE
Probably the most neglected aspect of Dog Obedience Training by dog lovers is their lack of understanding the three different emotional stages that a dog will go through in it’s life, and how something I like to call the “New Car Syndrome” can determine how successfully your pup’s good behavior develops as they mature through puppyhood, teenage years, become adult dogs and eventually into an older dog.
All good dog trainers understand this, and I think it’s finally time all dog owners understood it too!
You see, a puppy’s development mirrors a human child’s development in a lot of ways….
Between 0-8 weeks they are considered infants, who really need their mothers.
At 8-16 weeks they become more like toddlers. Puppies at this stage are exploring their worlds, developing their personalities, and defining their base level views of the world.
Between 4-6 months puppies start to behave more like children, exploring their boundaries more, building confidence, and discovering who they are.
Then at 6-12 months your dog is basically a teenager, who, similarly to human teenagers, often turns from a well-behaved dog, into a dog who reverts to a lot of bad behavior.
And then finally, somewhere between 12-18 months your dog will reach adulthood. Adulthood is a stage where dogs will start to challenge authority.
So, what’s the secret to getting your dog’s obedience training to STICK so he doesn’t develop new behavior problems as he passes through each stage?
The Key to a Well-Behaved Dog is the “New Car Syndrome”
What is New Car Syndrome?
It’s the weird phenomenon that happens when you are looking for a new car. For example, let’s say you wanted to get a new Ford 150. You start by looking on websites at all the different Ford 150s and then something really weird starts to happen.
When driving around, your brain, because it’s been focused on F 150s, gets hyper focused on finding F 150s… so much so that it literally feels like practically everyone on earth drives an F 150!
When this happens it’s totally normal, and, in fact, the scientific community says this happens because of a psychological phenomenon called…
Selection Bias – Selection Bias is what happens when something new or exciting pops up in your world. The newness of something creates an impression in your brain that automatically gives you a bias into wanting to look for more examples of the new cool thing. The result being that you start to look for and find more of that new thing everywhere.
What Does Selection Bias Have to do With Dog Training?
The reason Selection Bias is so critical for training well-behaved dogs is because if we can control what the dog is focusing on, we stand a MUCH greater chance of getting them to behave.
During each stage of your dog’s development a good dog trainer will teach your dog how to pay attention to the things you’ll want him to focus on during his later stages of development, so that when he gets to those stages he has a positive association around the presence of certain things.
You should be actively getting your dog excited about the situations you KNOW he’ll struggle with during the next stages of his development and be addressing those BEFORE they become a problem.
Puppy Obedience Training Tips for Creating Selection Biases at Each Stage of Development
Basic Obedience Tip #1: Focus on Training a Puppy Confidence EARLY & Often
We all know a pet owner who’s describes their dog something like “My dog hates men” or, “I have to drug my dog when around fireworks” or “My dog loves people, but as soon as she sees another dog…”
These are common complaints dog owners have about their older dogs. Dogs behave like this because during the puppy stage of emotional development their owners did not do a good enough job of making the interaction with other men, loud noises or dogs, fun!
So, the dog developed a negative Selection Bias based off those types of situations, whereas, by using Hands Off dog training techniques like we teach to our clients, our client’s dogs are taught how to:
— Get SUPER excited to retrieve after a loud noise (just like bird hunting dogs are taught)
— Taught that only men with beards or hats will play ball with them, so they are triggered to be more positive at the site of more gruffy/scary looking men.
— And taught that when seeing another dog, its more fun to ask their owner for permission to play then it is to just fly off their rocker.
Noise Training Session Tips:
I first learned the value of noise training sessions when I got my very first Golden Retriever, Bauer, over 10 years ago. I happened to be living in a new neighborhood, and there was a LOT of construction going on that was bothering my dog.
Generators would be constantly running, saws would be making ear piercing noises, nail guns would be going off, etc.
All these noises were creating a negative bias in my dog, because they were constantly startling him. To fix this, I decided to come up with a game where my puppy would do one training session per day where we practiced on touching loud, scary things with his nose.
I started with a running vacuum in our house, then moved up to training him to touch my hand while I was running a power drill, and finally coming up and touching a construction worker’s running generator while a bunch of guys were on the roof firing off nail guns.
This is an exercise that I teach you how to do in my Hands Off dog training course, with a training clicker, but at its core, what it does is it gives your dog a TREAT every time it touches scary objects, and that treat starts to over-ride your dog’s NEGATIVE biases about noises, and turn them into positive ones.
We recommend this be a staple part of your puppy obedience training plan for EVERY pet owner. If you want your dog to grow up to be a well-behaved dog in every type of scenario, then training your dog to be ok around loud noises is a MUST. Do not neglect this crucial portion of a young puppies development.
This method, called Counter Conditioning by behavior scientists, works so well that after a few weeks, my dog would start to come running to me, EXPECTING food treats, every time he heard a nail gun.
I just need to warn you!
There is an art to using this method when your dog already has a fear of something. Trying to push your dog to be comfortable with things that are too scary, too fast is called FLOODING, and can actually make your dog’s fears worse. So, make sure you study up on how to do counter conditioning training sessions the RIGHT way.
Next Focus on Touch Training Sessions:
Puppies have several areas of their bodies that they don’t like to have touched or pet, and several areas of their bodies that we know will get stepped on at some point in their lives, or that tend to develop arthritis in older dogs (German Shepherd’s are known for this) so we want to make sure we do some preventative training sessions to ensure that our dogs know how to not lash out aggressively when they are accidentally hurt.
We don’t want your neighbor’s toddler to accidentally fall down on your dog or step on their tail, only to get bit in the face.
Fortunately, it turns out that animals (and people as well) have the capacity to enjoy pain. I know it’s weird but check this out…
Several years ago, before they banned harmful animal experiments, there was an interesting rat study done where a hungry rat was trained to press a lever to get a pellet of food. Once the rat had learned that pressing the lever meant he got food, the behavior scientists rigged the lever so when the rat pressed it he received a very mild shock.
While at first the rat was startled, very quickly he become unphased by the shock, even as the scientists continued to increase the shock on a daily basis.
But here’s the really interesting part…
The scientists got to the point where they had trained the rat to give himself EXTREME levels of painful shock for every pellet of food.
Then they did something that seems crazy to me. The behavior scientists stopped giving the rat food when he pressed the lever, but the lever still shocked him severely. And what they discovered was that even if they fed the rats without shock, even FULLY FED rats would go over and elect to receive electric shock even though they didn’t want any food.
In a sense, they had become addicted to receiving pain!
Now I’ll admit, this is a little bit sadistic, and I don’t share this with you to suggest that we try to train your dog to receive high levels of pain.
But this type of training is exactly what service dogs have to go through before they can be rehomed to their disabled patients who might roll their wheelchair over their tails. The service dog industry cannot afford to have a dog bite a disabled person even if they are caused pain; it simply can’t happen, so this method of giving rewards while receiving mild levels of pain, and then increasing those levels of pain, is one of the methods you’ll want to use on your puppies.
Paws and tails tend to get stepped on, ears can get pulled, and hips can be a sensitive area for dogs as they age, so we want to make sure they trust us completely when touching those areas.
Again, like with the noise based training sessions, touch based training sessions use the principal of giving a dog a high value treat or reward, while you induce a little bit of discomfort to a part of their body.
As an example, one way to do this is to take your dog’s paw in one of your hands and start to firmly pet or wedge your fingers in-between your dog’s toes. Many dogs won’t like this and will go to mouth your hand to get you to back off. The key is to make sure that you give a tasty food treat at the same time you are wedging your fingers into your dog’s toes. You are trying to create a positive association with discomfort.
When performing this type of training session on a young pup, make sure you don’t go too fast, or you can end up creating anxiety around being touched. Again, for full details on how to do this the right way, check out the training program.
What Basic Obedience to Focus on Between 8-16 Weeks
During this stage of your puppy’s development we want to focus on making coming to you the GREATEST thing in the world. We want to start doing this because as your dog progresses on to the next stage of his development, he’s going to start to test his boundaries and his freedoms.
If you don’t train your dog to love the basic obedience training commands for coming to you during this stage, ESPECIALLY when he’s out of ear shot, and when he has something he shouldn’t have…
… then you run the risk during his teenage years of having a dog who won’t listen to a damn thing you say and will defy you, grabbing things and running off with them.
So, during this stage we spend a lot of time doing things like taking an old pair of shoes you were about to throw away and teaching him how to bring them to you all over the house, for treats, praise and pets. We do the same thing when he hears his name called outside. We teach him that it ONLY means good things.
This again, creates that Selection Bias, so when your dog matures, and gets more defiant, you have conditioned his mind to already want to be with you; instead of being only neutral about wanting to be with you.
Training TIP: During this stage of your pup’s life, I like to recommend you keep a leash on your puppy at all times. Leaving a leash on your puppy allows you to not have to chase him or grab for him when he gets into something he shouldn’t or doesn’t want to come to you.
Having your dog on a leash provides many impromptu training sessions that will be incredibly valuable for you!
For example, my most recent dog loved to dig into the garbage for bones during this stage of his life, and our initial attempts to try to get the dog to drop his bone were being completely ignored. Forcing dogs to give up high value things like meat or a bone at this stage of their life by using negative reinforcement training techniques like hitting, or prying open his mouth, actually cause dogs to become what’s called ‘resource aggressive’.
Resource aggressive dogs don’t want to give up what they have, because they value it so highly they’ll fight for it. These dogs are already thinking they have to fight you for something, and they’re ready to do it, so if you start the fight, they become more inclined to fight back. This is the mistake that creates MANY aggressive dogs.
Yet when your dog is wearing a leash, you simply walk over to your dog (without making any attempts to take the item from him), step on his leash, and take him to a timeout spot.
I cover timeout spots inside my Hands Off Dog Training course, but here’s the key: on the way to the timeout spot, right before I make him go there, I ask him to drop it one last time before he gets his time out. If he drops it, great, and his reward is not having to go into the timeout.
Now of course, the dog doesn’t always drop it, and, in those cases, you’ll want to make sure you spend time working on dropping and leaving high value items. We want your dog to learn that dropping what he has in his mouth means more goodies are coming.
For a free exercise to help you train your dog to drop things, download this:
NOTE: Drop it is best taught while keeping your dog on a leash, as it helps you prevent your ‘drop it’ training sessions from becoming a keep away training session. As you practice teaching the ‘drop it’ training commands, make sure you have high value toy or food treat that you can reward your dog with when he drops items.
To sum up what a puppy needs during this stage of life, they need TONS of training sessions that focus on all the things that might stand in the way of your dog seeing you as the greatest thing on earth.
You taking his food, objects he wants to chew, or freedom, away from him at this stage of your dog’s life are issues that you want to train him to accept now, before he goes into the next stage of development, where they can become a REALLY big problem.
Other Critical Puppy Obedience Training Tips During This Early Stage
Somewhere around the 10-12 week mark of a puppies life, a puppies bladder becomes strong enough where you can successfully start housebreaking them.
This is done by first training your puppy to realize that when you take him out for a potty break (if he goes potty fast) he get’s treats, rewards, and fun play time.
Don’t expect your pup to get this right away. It will take a little bit of time to teach him that going poo inside the house does not get treats, but going outside does.
Once he realizes this lesson, it will be important to teach your dog to let you know when he has to go, by ringing some form of a bell that you can hang on your door.
Training your puppy to actually want to ring the bell is most easily done by using a crate. Most Dogs have a natural instinct to not soil the area they live in. By using a crate, we can put the dog in a scenario where even though he feels the urge to go, he will hold it longer than normal.
The Humane Society suggests that your puppy is capable of holding his bladder for one hour, for every month old he is. So if your puppy is only a month old, you should not leave him in his crate for more than an hour, or he’ll soil it!
This is both good and bad.
It’s bad, because at nighttime that means you will want to be getting up a LOT to let him out and reward him for peeing. But it’s also good, because if you set your alarm, you’ll get ten times more potty training practice in by using a crate, then you would without a crate – Making you look like a pet owning hero when your dog is potty trained at a ridiculously young age.
Crate training creates a scenario where you can know with high certainty that if its been an hour, you know your dog has to go, so you can take him over to his potty bell, make him ring it, and then let him outside where he can relieve himself.
This act of forcing him to ring the bell before he can feel relief, trains the dog that ringing the bell will bring relief, which is PERFECT for when he get’s older and you want him to ring his bell even if he’s not in the crate!
PRO Dog Trainer Tip: For every time your dog has an accident in your house, you need to successfully capture your dog eliminating where you want him to 2-3 times. So it’s critical that you don’t slack at this part of the training, otherwise you’ll end up with an older dog who still “goes” whenever, and wherever he wants. It is also important to clean up any accidents with an enzyme based odor eating cleanser. A dog’s nose is very strong, and they will often look to eliminate in the same place as before if you do not fail to clean up the accident effectively.
Don’t Leave Young Puppies In Their Crate Too Long
When leaving your dog or puppy in a crate for longer periods of time, make sure you provide lots of toys. The crate should be a happy place for your dog to be. Favorite toys like a stuffed Kong toy, full of frozen peanut better, or his favorite chew bone should be given only while the dog is in his crate to help teach him that good things happen in there.
Your goal should be to teach your dog how to be comfortable in a pet crate for as long as he can hold his bladder.
Many young puppies cry incessantly when first left in their crate. To help you overcome that issue here are two videos.
This first video focuses on getting your puppy to love his crate:
The second video covers a game for getting your dog to stop crate squawking and whining.
You can do a quick google search for potty bells, and find lots of fun designs that might look good in your home. But here’s why they work so well.
You want to train your puppy to know that he gets a reward when he eliminates outside, (in your presence) This makes it so you will start to train your dog to be excited to tell you he wants to go outside by ringing a bell.
If you don’t know how to do this, we have a course that covers how we used this process to potty train a golden retriever in just 5 days.
This was only possible because he wanted his dog treats so badly, that it would sit at the door for several minutes, ringing his bell just to make sure I’d see him go potty, so he could have his reward.
This is the type of good behavior that we want in a dog. We want them to behave without instructions from us, especially when it comes to potty training.
Don’t Forget Socialization For Your Puppy During This Stage Two
The American Kennel Club says that starting at 7 weeks and leading up to 4 months of age, puppies learn critical social lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their life. It is crucial that you treat your puppy’s socialization during this period seriously, otherwise you increase the risk of your dog developing aggression issues, dog to dog reactivity issues and a whole lot of other problems.
To learn our best tips for socializing your puppy correctly, we recorded an entire video training course that walks you through exactly how both an older dog or puppy should be socialized. That program is called Socialization Secrets, and you can learn more about it here.
Your Dog’s Training Priorities from 4-6 months (pre-teen)
The 4 to 6 month stage is your last shot at creating impressions and positive biases on your dog before he reaches the defiant teenage years that are right around the corner.
Pet owners should spend a lot of time during this stage teaching your dog to look to you for direction, when around distractions. You can prevent a LOT of behavior problems as your dog gets older, if you’ll train him to give you your attention, even in highly distracting environments.
One great game that we play during this stage that teaches your dog to give you his undivided attention, even when distracted, is called the Look A Way Game.
The Look A Way game teaches dogs to be excited to look at us, whenever they see something new come into their environment.
Click Here for a downloadable exercise sheet that shows how to play this game.
By spending extra time and focus during this stage at getting your dog EXCITED to turn to you for directions, you’ll have a dog who won’t ignore your basic commands when he reaches teenage years.
Done correctly, we teach people how to create this Selection Bias even around squirrels and bunnies that run across them on a walking path.
Dogs love to work when taught the right way, and they love learning to look for new things, and being rewarded by being the first to see something new and point it out to you.
This skill makes it so that exciting things don’t distract your dog, and instead turn into cues to lock in and focus on you, which is the skill your dog will struggle with the most as he turns into a teenager.
Also, during this stage, please spay or neuter your dog. Dogs do not behave better with the distraction of hormones that start flooding into their system at this stage in their development.
From 6-12 months: Keep ‘em BUSY
It is often said that idle hands are the devil’s work.
Before your dog reaches this stage, I strongly recommend making sure he learns the critical skills for how to retrieve, as retrieving a thrown tennis ball with something like a Chuck-It can burn off a ton of energy and really help even your dog out. Skills needed for this are wait while you throw the ball, fetch, and then drop it at your feet.
Many people neglect to teach all the skills necessary for a good retrieve, and end up with a dog who won’t fetch, or who if he fetches doesn’t bring the ball back. If you don’t train all three skills necessary then you’ll have a harder time meeting your dog’s play and energy demands as he get’s older. Plus your dog’s health can be greatly improved if he does regular retrieving sessions. Don’t neglect this basic obedience skill!
It may also be helpful to remember that training sessions for more complicated tasks can be as mentally taxing on a dog’s energy levels as physical demands. So, this is a great time to keep piling on the obedience training.
Here are Our 3 Favorite Dog Obedience Training Tips
Obedience training is, quite simply, training your dog to be obedient. It includes training them the basic obedience commands including sit, stay, heel, come, and so on. There are two basic approaches to obedience training. One school of thought employs negative reinforcement techniques like choke collars and electric shocks, while the other utilizes a simple clicker and rewards. Which do you think works best? Clicker training and rewards, and here’s why…
Negative reinforcement breeds fear. It makes your dog afraid of you and of others. Fear causes aggression and unpredictable behavior. The result is a dog that bites, destroys your property, and barks incessantly.
While negative reinforcement may work in the short run, they are not predictable. For the best dog training results, you want to make sure that the dog’s behaviors are predictable and repeatable.
Dog training with positive reinforcement creates a bond that will last a lifetime and using a clicker is the most effective and efficient tool to accomplish the task, because it teaches the dog that dog training commands (if followed) will get him a positive experience if he’ll do what we ask, vs. creating fear about what will happen if he gets it wrong.
The clicker tells your dog the instant it has performed a correct or desirable behavior.
The sound is their signal that they’ve done it right.
This clicking sound combined with positive reinforcement, like verbal praise and food rewards, is an incredibly effective way to train your dog to perform any behavior including sit, stay, heel, fetch, speak, attack, roll over, play dead, lay down and just about any dog behavior or trick you can think of. Before you get started with clicker training there are some tips to make the most of your clicker training sessions.
1. Schedule Training
They’ll actually anticipate this time with you! If you schedule training sessions before meal times they’ll be extra motivated to learn the basic dog obedience behavior you’re working on.
2. Keep Obedience Training Sessions Short
Dogs only have unlimited attention spans when it involves a ball or chasing a cat. Actually, they lose focus for those fun activities too! Keep training sessions to around five minutes and your dog will be attentive and engaged. Drag the session on too long and your dog may lose interest in training all together.
3. Don’t Punish Your Dog’s Behavior
This may seem contrary to how training should be handled, however, punishment like yelling, hitting or time outs in their crate actually can cause more harm than good.
It causes your dog to be fearful, stressed, and destructive. Instead, fix bad behaviors by rewarding good behavior. It may take them a little longer to catch on, but the rewards are worth it and the training will last. You won’t have to retrain and retrain and retrain.
Practice Using the Clicker Before You Begin Training Your Dog
A clicker is a simple tool, you pinch it and it makes a clicking sound. However, it isn’t as simple to use. Because the sound is the cue to proper obedience behavior, it must be accurate.
If you click after your dog has performed the correct behavior, they may not make the association. Rather click when your dog is performing the correct behavior. To be an accurate clicker, practice.
For example, let’s say your dog is on his leash and you are trying to click for him keeping his leash nice and loose; but you’re click is late, and you end up clicking when he’s actually at the end of his leash. Guess what message your sending if you click late like that?
That’s right, to PULL on his leash, which is obviously not what we want to train our dogs.
For more leash walking tips, tricks and strategies, check out our Walking Calmly program…
Plan Your Obedience Training
For example if you’re training your dog to sit consider the following questions:
— What will you do to cue the command? Will you give your dog a verbal cue, a physical cue or both?
— How long should they sit for?
— Do you want the dog to sit in front of you or just to sit where he stands no matter where you are?
This is important because you will click and reward for progress toward the ultimate behavior. For example, if you want your dog to sit on command until you release him there are two commands you will teach your dog.
Every time they sit you will click and reward.
Eventually, through progression, you will add a cue, a release command, and so on until you have achieved the desired result.
Dog Obedience Training is important for many reasons. It keeps your dog safe. It ensures your dog will not adopt unwanted behaviors like tugging on the leash, jumping on people and begging during dinner, not to mention destructive tendencies. It gives your dog structure and expectations which make them feel secure.
It also provides you and your dog quality time and a positive pet owner and dog relationship. Whether your dog is young or old, large or small, calm or hyper, obedience training is a positive step toward lifelong dog and owner happiness.
Important Thoughts for Pet Parents to Remember:
In the next installment of this article, we will be talking about taking your dog’s obedience training to the AUTOMATIC level, where the dog goes from being able to do what you say, to doing what you want, before you even ask him to.
We’ve touched on one of the ways we do that through the Look A Way game training sessions that start to train dogs to actively look for things in their world, and this is a great first step for getting your dog ready for the final stages of his dog obedience training.
But it’s also important to point out that another skill we want to train our dogs to do, before they’re ready for the final, most elite level of training, is to learn the skill that I call, “Away Motivated”.
Most types of dog training are asking your dog to come and do something, and while that’s fine, we also need to train dogs to go out and do something if we want them to be really well behaved.
For example, if you ask most dogs (who know how to sit) to actually sit, they don’t. Instead, they first run to your feet, and then sit. This is a “towards motivated” sit. Instead, we want the dog to realize that sit means sit; it doesn’t mean come to me and then sit.
Good Dog Obedience Training helps dogs to obey commands at a distance, and gets them to be okay leaving you to accomplish tasks like retrieving, or working (like we’ll talk about in the next installment in this series), or to do something like go off to his bed for a minute.
because your dog will need both in the days, weeks and months ahead if he’s going to truly turn into that well-behaved dog you’ve always dreamed he could become; who loyally obeys and serves you without you having to always harp on him to do so.
In our next installment of this series, we’ll show you how to take some of the dog obedience training tips you’ve been learning up until this point, and add in a few secrets that the Therapy Dog & Service Dog Industry has discovered for training the best behaved dogs in the world, and how by just copying a few steps of their training process you can develop incredibly good behavior in your dog, too, without having to fork over the moola most do for a fully trained service dog.