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Train Your Dog in Three Simple Steps

This article summarizes the major steps in rewards based training that have been summarized here to get you started. More in depth exploration of each step will enhance and improve your training prowess.Have fun training your dog!


The first step in getting your dog to perform the behaviors you want is to decide what it is you want your dog to do. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most of my clients answer this question with statements like “I don’t want Buddy to pull me when I take him for a walk” or “I don’t want Chloe to jump on people when they come to the house”.

These are reasonable requests, but what is it you want Buddy & Chloe to do instead? It is much easier to teach a dog to do something than to teach them to stop doing something so turn it around and envision a behavior that you like & that you can teach.

Once you know what behavior you want your dog to learn, it’s time to get your dog to “do” the behavior. There are 4 ways you can get your dog to do something:

  1. The most common method is to put a food reward in your hand and get your dog to follow it into the position you want. This is called luring and it can be very effective as long as it is not overused.
  2. You can capture the behavior you want by waiting for your dog until he demonstrates the behavior you are looking for. Until your dog figures out what you are trying to get him to do, this method can be time consuming but it does work.
  3. You can physically place your dog in a position (like a sit) by gently pushing his rear to the floor. This method is called modeling and it is the least effective way to get a behavior.
  4. Finally, and by far the most effective method (particularly with complex behaviors) is shaping. Shaping recognizes small steps that lead toward a finished behavior. You recognize each step your dog takes in the right direction until he finally completes the behavior.

Whatever method you use to get your dog to demonstrate a behavior be sure to let your dog know that he got it right. The best way to do this is to introduce a marker that tells the dog “Yes, you got it! The marker can be your voice simply saying "Yes!" (or any other word you've chosen) or you can use a clicker. A clicker will make a unique sound that will be new and different which will cause your dog to take note of the sound and ultimately will help to connect the sound to a reward. Read on!


Rewards play a critical role in training your dog to do the things you want him to do. When you reward your dog for a behavior, your dog is more likely to repeat that behavior. Finding (and using) rewards your dog likes can make all the difference in developing a well-mannered companion.

The most common form of reward is food, but there are many other things your dog may (or may not) find pleasurable. Remember to think about it from the dog’s point of view. Watch how your dog reacts to various rewards. Rewards you can use include things like verbal praise, touch, playing with you, playing with a toy, chasing a ball, going outside, etc. The choices are as varied as our dogs. Just be sure to take the time to learn what it is your dog likes.

Start with a simple behavior. Try calling your dog’s name and as soon as he looks at you, click, then give him the food. You can toss the food next time to get him to look away and then call his name. In this way, you are getting your dog to associate the sound of the click (or “YES!”) with something good happening. In addition, you are teaching him that when he looks at you, he gets a treat.


Practice is the key to reliable behavior, but there are a few things you will need to do in order to make your practice time effective. First, you need to introduce the cue (command) for the behavior you have just taught your dog. Let’s say you have your dog looking at you consistently and you know he will look at you again right after he retrieves the treat you just tossed on the floor. Now would be the perfect time to name this behavior. We’ll call it “watch me”. So when your dog makes eye contact, mark it, with a click, throw the treat and as your dog goes for the treat, say, “watch me” before he has a chance to look at you again.

Getting your dog to pair the cue “watch me” with the specific behavior of looking at you will take at least 50 repetitions. Don’t try to do it all at once. Try 3-5 repetitions two or three times a day until you can get your dog to look at you as soon as you say, “watch me.”

Be sure to practice in different locations. Practice in different rooms of your house then practice outside. When you feel your dog is dependable, go on the road: try it on your walk, at the park, or at a friend’s house. Just remember that each change of location presents it’s own challenges/distractions for your dog so if he regresses, be patient and consider going back a step when it seems too much for him.

You will also want to vary when your dog gets rewarded for responding to your cue. If you provide a food treat every time, the behavior will weaken as your dog comes to expect the reward. Instead, give the food treat randomly, maybe every third time. Keep your dog guessing about when & what he will get as a reward and he will keep trying.

Be sure to always give verbal praise.

These three simple steps: Get the Behavior, Reward the Behavior, Practice the Behavior are the key to training your dog and getting him to be the best companion he can be. Good luck & have fun with your dog!

Stay tuned for more information on positive reward based training in future issues.


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