Training your dog is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner. It helps to establish boundaries, build trust, and create a positive relationship between you and your furry friend. 

Here are five tips to help you get started with training your dog:

  1. Start early: It's best to start training as soon as you bring your new dog home, whether a puppy or an adult. Helping to establish good habits will make training more straightforward in the long run.
  2. Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a training method that rewards desired behavior with treats, toys, petting, or other things your dog likes.. It helps to encourage your dog to repeat the behavior and makes training more enjoyable for you and your dog.
  3. Keep training sessions short and fun: Dogs have short attention spans, so it's essential to keep training sessions short and engaging. Mix up the types of training activities you do and reward your dog for its efforts. Remember to include “recess periods” of play to keep each session enjoyable for you and your dog.
  4. Practice consistently: To help your dog learn and retain new skills, it's important to practice consistently. This means setting aside regular training sessions and reinforcing good behavior throughout the day.
  5. Be patient: Training a dog takes time and patience. Don't get frustrated if your dog doesn't seem to be getting it right away. Keep practicing and be consistent with your approach; your dog will eventually get the hang of it. If you are struggling with one part of training, take a break, change the pattern, or take a moment to just play with your dog and relieve any building tension.

In addition to these general tips, there are specific training methods to teach your dog specific skills or behaviors. For example, you can use clicker training to teach your dog to sit, stay, come, and other basic commands. You can also teach your dog more advanced skills, such as agility or scent work, with the help of a professional trainer or through specialized training classes.

What are some common mistakes people make when training a dog?

  • Using punishment as a training method: Punishment-based training methods, such as hitting, yelling, or using aversive tools such as shock collars and prong collars, can be harmful to dogs and may lead to fear, aggression, or other behavioral issues. It's essential to use positive reinforcement techniques to reward good behavior rather than punish it.

  • Not setting clear boundaries: Setting clear boundaries and rules is important for helping your dog understand what is expected of them. Without clear boundaries, your dog may become confused or anxious, and training will be more difficult.

  • Not socializing your dog: Socialization is exposing your dog to different people, places, and situations in a controlled and positive way. Socializing your dog early in life is important to help them learn how to behave appropriately in different situations. Dogs should be enjoying socialization. If they are showing signs of fear or stress, remove them from that situation and try later in a calmer situation.

You can have a happy and well-trained dog by avoiding these common mistakes.

Student working with a canine companion.

How long will it take?

The time it takes to train a dog in basic commands will vary depending on several factors, including the dog's age, breed, and personality. Generally, it's possible to teach a dog basic commands in a few days, and they can do it consistently in many contexts in a few weeks or months with consistent training and positive reinforcement.

Dogs are generally quick learners, but like young people, puppies can have shorter attention spans than adult dogs. Be especially patient and encouraging with younger dogs, providing a lot of positive feedback in the form of treats, scratches, and more breaks from training and opportunities to burn off energy through play. 

Adult dogs can be more attentive, but if they have already established bad habits, those can be hard to break.  However, continued gentle correction followed by positive reinforcement will help them overcome these habits without becoming fearful of their owners.  

Older dogs can also learn new tricks, but problems like arthritis, loss of hearing, and impaired eyesight are among many health conditions that can interfere with older dogs responding to simple commands. If an older dog is reluctant to execute some of your commands, it might be time for a visit to your veterinarian to make sure your dog can physically manage the tasks that you are asking it to learn

Some dogs may pick up on basic commands faster than others, depending on their natural ability and motivation to learn. For example, some dogs may be more food-motivated and learn more quickly when rewarded with treats, while others may be more toy-motivated and learn faster when rewarded with playtime.

It's essential to keep training sessions short and fun and to be patient and consistent with your approach. With time and practice, your dog should be able to learn basic commands such as "sit," "stay," and "come."

Are there behavioral and health benefits of having a well-trained dog?

  • Training your dog helps to establish boundaries and rules, which can reduce confusion and anxiety and makes your dog feel more secure.
  • Training your dog can help to prevent or address behavioral problems, such as excessive barking, destructive chewing, or aggression
  • Training your dog can provide mental and physical stimulation, which can help to prevent boredom and keep your dog healthy and happy
  • Training your dog can help to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, as a well-trained dog is more likely to follow safety rules and respond to commands.

Overall, training your dog can have many positive effects on its behavior and well-being. 

Thank you to Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, professor and specialist in large animal internal medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and also certified in shelter medicine, and Erica Feuerbacher, associate professor of animal science and welfare in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) for their suggestions and edits in preparing this article.