Dogs may be humans’ best friends, but that doesn’t mean that they instinctively know how to behave and what you expect of them. When you adopt a new pup into your home, the onus is on you to provide them with proper training and set them up for a lifetime of success. Fortunately, most dogs are extremely eager to learn, regardless of their age.
So, what is the best method to train a dog? There are two facets to effective dog training: positive reinforcement and a basic understanding of dog psychology. The first facet focuses on training your dog in a way that instills good behavior without punishment or fear, while the other focuses on helping you tap into your dog’s point of view so that both of you can make progress without constant frustration.
Proper training is at the heart of any positive dog-human relationship. Here’s how to make it happen, with quick tips that you can start putting into practice right away.
How to Train a Dog: Getting Started
How do you start training a dog? It depends on your canine companion’s age, as well as their past training experiences.
Puppies have a notoriously short attention span, which means you’ll want to start training in short snippets and with the most basic of commands (leave “roll over” and army crawls for later, when they’ve got the essentials down).
An adolescent, middle aged, or senior dog will be able to pay attention for extended periods of time, so you can start with longer training sessions. How you go about it however will depend on their past training—or lack thereof—as well as their openness to learning.
All dogs can pick up new skills, but not always at the same pace. Consistency is key, as is letting your dog take the lead (no pun intended) and maintaining a calm and positive training environment. With these basics in mind, you’ll both have an easier go at it and a more pleasant one, too.
Dog Training Basics
Whether you’re interested in how to potty train a dog, how to leash train a dog, or how to teach any other of the skills that will make your pup a productive member of the family, it always helps to begin with the foundational techniques.
Read on for a quick overview of the very basics of dog training, and check out this course on resolving common behavior issues if you’re dealing with something a bit more specific.
What Are the 7 Basic Dog Commands?
Your dog doesn’t need to be able to jump through literal hoops in order to be considered well trained. It’s up to you how far you take your training lessons, but make sure to start with the seven basics to provide your pup with a great foundation to build off of.
Here are the seven core skills that any dog training regimen should cover:
- Leave It
Notice something missing from this list? While “no” and “stop” might be our go-to terms as humans for getting our dogs to back off of a bad behavior, the basic commands are all about redirection and the promotion of positive actions, rather than just telling our pups to cut it out when they do something we don’t like.
How to Potty Train a Dog
Now let’s talk specifics, starting with how to house train a dog. Potty training is all about opportunity, meaning you need to provide your dog with (a) plenty of chances to go potty outside and (b) enough time outdoors to do their business before coming back in.
With puppies, aim to take them out to a grassy spot every two hours and stay there until they potty. Older dogs have bigger bladders, so you can space this out to every four hours or so but, as with puppies, try to stay outside until they actually go. Reward successes with treats and praise, and if your dog does have an accident inside (which is totally normal!), ignore them while cleaning it up instead of teaching them that going potty indoors gets them attention.
How to Train a Dog to Come
This command could save your dog’s life in a risky situation. The goal is “reliable recall,” meaning your dog comes 99% of the time that you call them. Start training “come” in low-distraction areas, and once your dog has it down pat, move on to outdoor areas and other places with more distractions. Make sure your dog comes all the way to you before you give a reward, since simply getting their attention isn’t enough.
How to Train a Dog to Sit
Dogs don’t know what “sit” means, so you have to teach them by first waiting for them to sit on their own and then saying the word and rewarding the behavior. Over time, they’ll start to make the connection between the action, the word, and the reward, after which time you can up the ante and praise them for sitting after you tell them to do it.
How to Train a Dog to Stay
Once your dog has “sit” down, you can move on to “stay.” This is another safety command, so don’t waste time adding it to the roster.
When your dog sits, tell them to stay and slowly back away, with the objective that they stay put until you give a release word, such as “now” or “free.” In the beginning they won’t stay for long (or at all), but the more you practice the more they’ll realize that once they hear “stay” they should remain in place until they hear the release word.
How to Crate Train a Dog
Many pet parents look into how to crate train a dog, since this can help prevent indoor accidents and proactively get ahead of separation anxiety issues.
Keep in mind that crates are not a punishment. They’re a safe space where your dog can go, both when they choose alone time and when you need them contained. Make sure your crate is the proper size for your pup, and make it inviting with a favorite blanket or toy. Start crate training with the door open, and reward your dog when they go in there. Then gradually build from there, first closing the door and then increasing the amount of time they stay crated.
How to Leash Train a Dog
The first step in how to train a dog to walk on a leash is to make sure they’re comfortable in their harness. (Hint: harnesses offer more control than collars, and most dogs much prefer them for walks.) Reward your pup when you put their harness on, when you put their leash on, and after they start walking. Gradually increase the length of your walks, with plenty of positive reinforcement along the way.
How to Train a Dog to Stop Barking
Last up, let’s talk about how to train a dog to stop barking.
Never yell at your dog to stop barking, since they’ll just think you’re barking along with them. Instead, distract your dog from the stimulus, or, if they’re just barking to get your attention, ignore them until they stop and then offer praise.
These dog training tips cover just the basics of what your dog can be trained to do. Learn to train more advanced skills in this dog trick training course, and check out this canine masterclass on bonding with your dog through games. And if you’ve got a jumper, this course on how to get your dog to stop jumping is a must.
With patience, time, and lots of love, you can end up with a well-behaved dog that knows exactly what you want—and is eager to meet your expectations.
Need More Training Tips?
50 Dog Behavior Issues & Ways to Fix Them