How to Train Your Dog

A structured program can get your dog trained in no time

Man playing with dog
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All dogs need proper training. Whether you are sharing your home with a new puppy or an adult dog, it's never too soon to start training your dog. Most dogs are happier with the structure and confidence that comes from training.

It can feel overwhelming when you first begin to work on dog training. If you're unsure where to begin, develop a week-by-week schedule to help you get organized. Each week, choose one or two basic commands to work on. Plan to make some adjustments to your dog's environment in order to prevent or modify behavior problems.

Introduce a Crate

If you haven't already been using a crate, the first week of training is a good time to introduce one. The crate is a good tool to manage your dog's behavior when you aren't there to supervise. Take a little time each day this week to let your dog get used to the crate, and begin letting it sit in there for a few minutes at a time. Your dog may eventually prefer to sleep in its crate.

Start leaving the dog in its crate for longer periods of time, but no longer than a few hours at a stretch. Be sure to leave some fun and interesting toys. Continue using the crate throughout your dog's training. Most dogs enjoy having a sanctuary of their own. Crates also can help with housetraining, since most dogs will not defecate or urinate where they sleep.

Establish a Routine

Dogs thrive on routine. Create a schedule of mealtimes, walks, and playtime early on in training. From the first week of establishing the routine, be careful to remain consistent on both weekdays and weekends. If a dog walker or someone else will be caring for your dog, make sure they are aware of the schedule as well. Stick with the routine as closely as possible during the dog's training and beyond. This will help your dog know what to expect and when. It's also beneficial for housetraining since your dog will begin to learn the exact times it can go outside (ex: after every meal, the dog gets walked to relieve itself).

Get Some Toys

Before you start teaching commands and tricks, try a wide variety of toys for your dog. Make sure to include some things such as Kong toys or Buster Cubes, which provide some mental stimulation. This will keep your dog mentally engaged, which is important, especially since most owners are not available to play with their dogs all day. Don't give your dog all the toys at once. Introduce toys this week, and then rotate the different toys each week throughout this process so your dog always has something new and interesting to play with.

Teach Your Dog Commands

Learning commands is essential for dog training. Your dog needs to know how to respond to its owner in order to stay safe. Start with the more basic commands and once those are mastered, move on to others.

  • Sit: Work on teaching your dog to sit. Plan on spending about 5 minutes a few times each day this week working on the "sit" command.
  • Down and Emergency Recall: Next, spend a few minutes several times each day this week working on the down command and teaching your dog the emergency recall.
  • Come and Leave It: Once your dog has mastered "sit" and "down," you can move on to these more complicated commands.
  • Stop Jumping: You can set aside time each day to practice this behavior, or you can wait until it comes up in your regular day-to-day activities (like when your dog jumps up to greet people coming in the door) to work on it.
  • Wait: You can practice this in regular training sessions, or you can wait for opportunities to crop up each day. Make sure your dog waits before going outdoors or coming out of its crate.
  • Go to Your Place: Begin working on teaching your dog to go to a specific place and lie down in your home. Some great times to practice having your dog lay calmly in place: during mealtimes or when you're sitting watching television or reading a book.
  • Drop It: In several short training sessions each day, teach your dog the "drop it" command.
  • Stop Barking: Begin training your dog to be quiet by working on the "speak" and "quiet" commands. You can do this during training sessions or you can wait until your dog barks and use it as an opportunity to practice.

Walking on a Leash

Begin teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash. This will teach your dog to safely walk, which is important for both the dog and the walker. Plan on at least one short walk each day during this week to practice this skill. This is a skill that you should continue working on throughout its training.

Choose a Trick

If your dog knows many basic commands, you can work on teaching it tricks and more advanced commands in the week after working on walks. This might include fun tricks such as "roll over" or "play dead," or if your dog has a pretty firm grasp on walking on a loose leash, the "heel" command to instill a little more control on walks. Tricks are not essential but can be fun for your dog and allow them to receive praise for good behavior.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

After focusing on a technique per week, your dog should be responding well to a number of commands. This does not mean you're done with training. Rather training must be practiced and reinforced over your dog's lifetime, which "proofs" the behavior. The training will ensure that your dog is a happy and well-adjusted member of your family.

Be sure to take 10 minutes at least three times each week to review the commands and behaviors you've already worked on. Reviewing commands you've taught is always a good way to enforce the behavior.

If you are having trouble with the training or a certain step, it can be helpful to sign up for a training class (usually with other dogs) or speak to a canine behavioral specialist. They can set up one on one sessions with you and your dog (and perhaps group sessions), to get to the root of the training issues and come up with long-lasting techniques.