By Samantha Randall of Top Dog Tips
Dog training doesn’t need to be a tedious or stressful affair. Instead, there are plenty of things you can teach your dog during your daily walks and save some time.
While a lot of advanced dog training methods require a specific environment and longer training sessions, certain things can be taught as part of your usual routine and won’t take more than 10 minutes of your time.
Here are some practical ideas to get you started.
Training to come
The most important command to teach your dog is to come when called. This is your way of getting your dog out of trouble and preventing disastrous situations. Daily walks are a good place to start this training employing the basics of obedience and reward-based training.
If you bring treats with you when you go for a walk, you can easily teach your puppy to come. All you need to do is verbalize the command – if necessary reinforce it by tapping your thighs – and give your pooch a treat when he does. Keep your commands short and clear. Doing this outside is excellent because there will be more distractions, and your puppy will learn to ignore them and do as he is told.
Asking to go out
If you have a young dog, the first thing he needs to learn is how to ask to go for a walk. Even before they are trained, dogs have their own ways of letting you know, although you might not always recognize those signs. Typically, a dog will be restless, circle or pace, whine, and sometimes even scratch at the door. If you notice this kind of behavior, it’s time to take your pup on a walk to relieve himself. If you trained your pooch to ask in a specific way, then a treat afterwards will solidify the behavior.
If your puppy shows no overt signs of wanting to go out, you will need to housebreak your dog and maybe even give him the right tools. The most popular way is to install a little doggy doorbell that he can push with his nose or paw. Using his favorite treats, teach the dog to push the bell. Once he learns that, practice opening the door and taking him outside every time he does it. This will teach your Fido that pushing the bell tells you he wants to go out.
Walking on a leash
Walking on a leash might sound like a given, but dogs actually need to be taught how to do it without pulling. The leash limits a dog’s movement, while the pet’s natural instinct is to explore. To begin your leash training, it’s advisable to give your dog a good workout beforehand, whenever that’s possible. Most of the pulling comes from excess energy. If you tire him out, training will be more effective. If he is still overly excited, wait until your pooch calms down to clip on his leash. Repeat as many times as necessary until he understands what is expected of him.
Once the leash is clipped, and you head out, keep a faster tempo. This will give your dog less time to notice things that might otherwise distract him. Remember to bring a bag of smaller bite-sized treats. Praise your dog and reward him with treats when he walks beside you. If he starts pulling, stop, call him back to you, then start again. After a while, the dog will figure out that pulling only makes the both of you stop, while walking by your side or slightly ahead gets him treats. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks until your dog is fully trained.
Stay consistent with leash training. Mixed signals will confuse the dog, and he’s likely to continue pulling.
Unfortunately, sometimes in a crisis, “Come” command just won’t cut it. For this reason, many dog trainers like Karen Pryor recommend that you teach your dog emergency recall; it’s associated with a much bigger reward, and can be easily taught on your daily walks.
The training process is almost the same as with the “Come” command. However, you should use an unusual command word that you won’t normally use with your dog. When he responds to the word and your non-verbal cues, you should feed your pooch his favorite treats for around half a minute. Use something your dog absolutely loves, like cooked chicken, burger patties, or whatever is likely to get him most excited. You should have enough treats to make the occasion memorable for your dog.
Repeat the process on several occasions until the dog’s response to this command is stronger than any possible distraction. Emergency recall should be used only when absolutely necessary. For instance, if your dog finds himself in imminent danger and doesn’t come when called, it’s time to utilize your secret weapon. It’s vital that this command retains its happy associations. Don’t use it to get your dog when he needs to get his shots, or when you are angry at him.
Teaching to drop it
The “Drop It” command can be very useful, and even save your dog’s life by preventing him from swallowing something dangerous or poisonous. The perfect opportunity to teach it? The next time you head out to the park to play fetch.
When you’re off to a park, bring your puppy’s favorite ball and a bag of small treats. Before you start, allow your dog to get some of the excitement out of his system. Let him play with the toy for a few minutes but take it before he’s had enough. Offer him the toy, and when he takes it in his mouth, show him a treat by holding it up close. Tell your dog to drop it in a firm manner. As soon as he drops the toy, let him have the treat. Once he gets the hang of this routine, you can gradually start increasing the distance between you. Eventually, he will learn to do it even without the treat.
Learning to stay
Another important command, “Stay” can save your dog from running into dangerous situations or even getting lost. Obeying this command takes plenty of self-control, so be patient with your puppy until he masters it.
When you’re on your usual walk, take a break in the middle of it. Pick a comfortable spot and tell your pooch to sit. Once he obeys, tell him to stay a few times, so that he memorizes the word. Say it again and take a step backwards. You can add a non-verbal cue by holding your palm up. Once he obeys, even for a few seconds, reward him with a treat. Repeat often, until he consistently obeys the command.
Remember to keep your training sessions short and sweet. Don’t spend your entire daily walk on training – a few minutes every day will suffice. Dog training should invoke happy feelings in your puppy, so arm yourself with plenty of patience, and skip those days when you are in a bad mood.