How to get the most out of training your dog

Dog training class at Animal Humane Society

Training your dog is an important part of helping them thrive at home and out in the community – but teaching new or desired behaviors isn’t the easiest process.

Here are some tips from our expert trainers on how to help you and your pup be more successful when training.

Train yourself first

Training your dog can be overwhelming, no matter their age or skill level. Taking time to research and gather resources prior to starting training – or even adopting – can be helpful.

Find what motivates your pet

Does your pet respond well to a specific kind of treat? Praise? Playtime with a special toy? Rewarding your furry friend’s behavior in a way that they value will lead to better training results. It may take some time to figure out what motivates your pet most, especially if it isn’t food

You’ll want to find lower value rewards for low distraction environments, like inside your home, and high value rewards for high distraction environments, like on walks outside.

Take it slow

Every step forward in training must be small enough that your dog has a good chance of getting it right. For example, if your dog holds “stay” for 15-seconds, don’t try for a minute the next time. The goal is to build the behavior step by step with as few errors as possible. Dogs learn through repetition and association, so make sure to set them up for success. 

If a behavior keeps falling apart, it’s a sign that you’re going too far too fast. Back your dog up to the last successful point and determine if there are other things influencing their performance, such as lack of motivation or distractions in the environment.

Consistency is key

A dog being rewarded with a treat for sitting in training class at AHS

Staying consistent in lessons and your responses is one of the most important things when training your pet. This is true for both teaching your pet new behaviors (i.e., sitting on command) or reducing behaviors (i.e., staying off the couch).

For new behaviors, make sure you respond positively every time your pet does the behavior, even if they perform it without the cue.

When reducing behaviors, respond the same way, every time. Allowing your dog on the couch “just this once” can be confusing for them and disrupt future training for that behavior.

Make sure responses are consistent across everyone who is involved in training. If you want training to be effective, it isn’t helpful if your dog associates certain behaviors with specific people.

Determine what is causing the behavior in the first place

If you would like to reduce a certain behavior, first evaluate what may be causing that behavior. By engaging in certain behaviors, your pup may be trying to communicate that they need something or are reacting to something in their environment. 

If this is the case, training may not be necessary, as the behavior can be reduced by meeting their needs or managing their environment, which trainers can help identify

Things such as past experiences or your dog’s breed can also influence the behaviors they exhibit

Set up your environment for success

Making sure your dog’s environment is on their side is especially important when training to prevent behaviors. If you are hoping to prevent chewing on shoes, keep the shoes in the closet. If your puppy pees on the rug while you’re in the shower, crate them until you come back. 

While this may seem counterintuitive, remember that your dog needs time to learn, and this will be more difficult in a space filled with things they associate with the unwanted behavior.

Take training classes

Dogs of any age and skill level can benefit from training classes – and classes can also help you gain confidence as a pet parent. AHS offers a variety of flexible training options to provide behavior support for different needs.

Did you know… our trainers and our  Pet Behavior Library can provide behavior support for cats, too!

Remember that training isn’t one-size-fits-all 

It can be discouraging when a training method that was successful for one of your canine companions isn’t yielding the same results for the other. 

Different dogs have different needs — and timelines -- when training, and it’s important to train your dog at the pace and style that works best for them. If something isn’t working, change course – and reach out to trainers for support.