The easiest and quickest way to teach your dog a new command, trick or behavior is with the use of rewards. Do something for me and I’ll do something for you. Dogs are very eager to please, and properly motivated, will do just about any silly thing you want them to do. Done right, rewarding your dog will make training easy and fun for both you and your pooch. Done wrong, it will lead to frustration and noncompliance.
Luring (with a treat) is the best way to shape a dog into an unknown behavior such as sit, down, or stand. Once your dogs knows the movement, you remove the lure and just use the verbal and/or hand signal, then reward him upon completion of the action. Then you transition to intermittent rewards – rewarding for the action every second, third, fifth, or tenth time. Intermittent rewarding is much more powerful than rewarding every single time. It’s much more motivating than simply getting a treat every single time. It’s like people at the slot machine: they win one out of a hundred times, but it keeps them enthusiastically pulling that one armed bandit the other ninety-nine times.
Rewards don’t always have to be food though. Although for most dogs food is what really puts the wag in their tails, many dogs are more motivated by toys. Actually, play time is a great time to sneak in some training. If you’re playing a rousing game of fetch or tug, stop play every so often and ask your dog to do something, then his reward is more play. I would always wait for him to go from an excited state of mind to calm before giving the reward. This will give you the ability to get him to go from excited to calm quickly and easily.
I love using “life rewards” in my day to day life and training with my dog. There is so much good stuff in a dog’s world in the average day that he’s getting for free, so why not take the opportunity to teach him some manners along the way. Getting his food is a reward; going outside is a reward; coming up on the bed (if you allow it) is a reward, etc. A dog’s life is jam packed with rewards, and all of these are opportunities for training for you.
At this point in my relationship with my dog, all I really want from her most of the time is simple eye contact. Before she goes out the door, all I ask is that she looks up at me and wait to be invited out. When she wants to come up on the bed she will walk over, look up at me, and wait for permission to come up. Most of the time she gets her reward, she just needs to say “please” first.
If you are using food to reward your dog make sure it is in fact a reward and not a bribe. Once your dog knows a command or behavior that you have taught, the food should be out of view. If your dog has to see the food to do what is asked, that’s a bribe. However, if you ask your dog to do something with no sign of the food, and then give it after he has complied, that’s a reward. This is a big distinction that too many people mess up. Consistently having to bribe your dog is the quickest way to an out of control do that doesn’t listen to a word you say.
All dogs are good most of the time, so don’t forget to tell them. Reward them as much as possible with verbal praise and affection to let them know they are doing a great job. Life in general is very rewarding – for us and our dogs. If you make sure you’re rewarding your dog often and in the right way, you’ll see how really good your pooch can be.