So you've got your hands on a little bundle of joy! Great, but your little puppy or older rescue dog isn't going to train itself, and you don't want a disobedient pet who doesn't respect or listen to you at all do you? That's what children are for.
First things first, start as early as you possibly can, we bought our puppy and brought him home at around 10 weeks old and started actively training him within days. Younger minds absorb information a LOT faster and more effectively than older minds, so we want to start young and get the fundamentals perfected (sit, stay, here, urinate outside etc). We will get to teaching your canine companion these specific commands in a separate article, for now we will just focus on what you will need to do to begin the process.
Buy A Clicker
Clicker training is an extremely effective way to train animals, ranging from horses to dogs. It teaches them to associate a certain sound with positive thoughts, the main advantage of the clicker is that the sound is consistent. A human whistle, or a "Good boy!" can sound very different depending on tone, and can therefore confuse animals. A clicker box is consistent. Consistency is key in positive reinforcement. Another advantage is that they're extremely cheap.
The Clicker I Use
"Tune" Your Clicker
So, you have bought your clicker. Now you have taken the first step in starting to train your dog. The next step is to teach your pet to associate the sound of the click with positive thoughts. This is simple, all you need to do is get the attention of your dog, click the clicker, and follow it up instantly with a treat. These treats should be small (your dog will be having a fairly large amount of them) and very quick to eat, as well as tasty obviously (hint: Dogs love cheese).
Now, as mentioned in the previous section, the key to dog training is consistency. In your dog's mind that clicking sound needs to be unequivocally associated with positive outcomes. This means that every time you click, your dog gets a treat. It doesn't matter if you click by accident, he still gets a treat. Don't worry too much if you clicked by accident and you don't want them picking up bad habits, it generally takes around 10 repetitions of something for a dog to learn a new skill (or bad habit in this case); obviously this depends on the intelligence of your dog breed.
Training Your Dog With A Clicker
After your dog has associated the click with positive thoughts, you should start using it as a training tool. I personally started with toilet training, after my dog went to the toilet outside, immediately after he had finished doing his work I would click and treat, then make a big fuss over him to make him feel even more loved. This way your dog starts learning that going to the toilet outside is a good thing to do. However, do not shout or tell your dog off if he makes a mistake once in a while and urinates in the house. What you should do is avoid eye contact, clean the mess up and disinfect to eradicate the smell. Sooner rather than later your dog will realise that if he goes to the toilet outside he gets a treat and a big fuss, but if he goes inside he gets the cold shoulder.
Now, onto training sessions: Once you start using your clicker for more active, hands-on training such as teaching your dog to sit and so on we want to keep sessions short. As with humans, dogs attention span and learning capacity is limited, keep sessions around the 10 minute mark and don't exceed 15 minutes. After 15 minutes your dog will lose patience and attentiveness and you will just be wasting your time trying to get him to listen. After the training session, I tended to put my dog in his cage and leave him for 5 minutes in order for him to digest what he has learned.
Another important thing to remember when training your puppy or dog is to focus on one thing at a time. There is absolutely no use in spending 15 minutes training your dog and alternating your commands every 30 seconds, it will just confused them and they will get bored a lot more quickly. If you are just getting started, start with a simple "Sit" command, and focus on that for 10 minutes until they get the hang of it. When further on in your training regime, I tend to follow this kind of schedule: For the first few minutes I focus on the "easy" stuff, actions he already knows well enough to do near perfectly. After that little warm up I focused on new or underdeveloped skills for around 10 minutes. To round the session off I finish on the commands he already knows again, to end the training session on a high note and boost the confidence of both yourself and your dog.
There you have it, the basics for getting started training your pet. The major rules to remember are as follows:
- Keep your positive reinforcement sound consistent, the clicker is the best option
- Train your dog to associate the sound of the clicker with positivity
- Keep sessions short, if the dog appears to be bored end the session on a high note and stop.
- Focus on one command at a time, don't confuse your pet!
I hope this helps you train your newly acquired pet, and that you both have a lot of fun doing it. I have also written an article regarding the first 5 commands to teach your dog, along with the methods I used to teach my dog these commands.