With about 77 million dogs in America today, and about one in three households owning a dog, there’s a very good chance you’ve met an untrained dog. He barks all night, chases cars, makes a mess of the house, and generally terrorizes everyone nearby.
Life with a well-trained dog is much easier. By learning how to train a dog properly, you can ensure that he doesn’t bother your neighbors or yourself at night, heels while you walk, stays off the couch and counters, and brings more joy than frustration to your life.
Actually learning how to train a dog isn’t completely intuitive. Many people think that hitting their dogs when they do something wrong will train them not to do it, or giving their dogs lots of biscuits will make them happy and keep them from doing things wrong. These are opposite, but equally wrong ways to train a dog.
1. Positive Reinforcement
It shouldn’t be the only form of reinforcement when you go about training your new dog, but it is definitely important. Most dogs are very loyal and want to make you happy, so showing your dog that you are happy and then rewarding him can help reinforce a behavior as positive.
For example, if you want your dog to sit when you tell him to sit, pat him and praise him, then give him a treat. Use treats the first few times, but not every single time, or your dog will start counting on the treat and feel disappointed when it doesn’t come. After enough repetition, your dog will sit on command. Dogs respond very well to this type of reinforcement.
2. Negative Reinforcement
This is a type of reinforcement like using an electric shock collar or yelling at your dog when he does something wrong. People who haven’t learned how to train a dog will often try this method. Much of the time, your dog simply does not understand why he is being punished, and learns to avoid and fear you instead of stopping the behavior.
In addition, this can make dogs aggressive, independent, and unhappy, which leads to even more behavioral issues and the possibility of your dog attacking someone.
If your dog does something wrong, use a firm but not harsh tone to say, “No!” and then redirect him to a more appropriate behavior. The link must be firm in your dog’s mind between the behavior and the consequence, and the rule must be enforced consistently by all household members, or your dog will simply fear you and like everyone else, while not stopping the behavior.
Both positive and negative reinforcement must be moderated. You should not reward your dog with a handful of treats every time he sits, but neither should you hit your dog, yell, or lock him up for hours.
If your dog isn’t new to the household and is still not trained, build a healthy relationship with him to training a lot easier. If you leave your dog alone for many hours everyday, ignore his needs, or leave him to bark in the backyard overnight, he learns that you don’t care about or for him like a pack leader should. This makes your dog more surly and independent, meaning it’s harder to train him.
Obedience training, both formally and at home, can help turn your dog from an expensive and frustrating nightmare to a loyal, loving family companion.