1,000 clicks – reward quickly and often! Dogs will offer behaviors that are highly rewarded. If you reward your dog for sitting in front of you every time they want attention, they’ll sit instead of jump on you! I say it’s 1,000 clicks to emphasize the high rate of reinforcement you should be using when training new behaviors. In the beginning you’ll click and treat for every single time. That’ll make it crystal clear to your dog exactly which behavior is being rewarded!
Catch your dog being good – So many of us tend to overlook our dogs when they’re doing what we want which is just relaxing and not pestering us! Be sure to capture what you want your dog to do by offering a reward. It doesn’t always have to be food. If your dog is just relaxing on the floor as you watch tv, you’ll probably rev them up by giving them a high value treat and ruin the moment! Just give them some calm attention or a low value treat just for being good. Remember, dogs will offer whatever behavior is being rewarded.
Your dog determines the reward – so often our dog perceives a reward without our knowledge. For example, when you come home and your dog excitedly jumps on you, if you stop what you’re doing and pet them or even put your hands on them to get them to stop, the dog has been rewarded by your physical contact and attention! In this example, when you come home, be prepared to ignore any and all attempts to get your attention by jumping. You can ask for a sit and reward that behavior. ANY attempts to get your attention by jumping should be ignored. Be extra observant and be ready to reward your dog for NOT jumping. Your dog will learn what behavior is rewarded and be more inclined to offer the non-jumping behavior.
Use high value treats – Don’t grab the milkbones! Grab some cheese, hot dogs, roast chicken etc! Grab something YOU would want to eat. It’s amazing how much more focused the dog is when they really want that treat! Of course, use a variety of treats in a variety of different environments. Remember, you want to offer a treat your dog truly wants and is willing to work for.
Learn your dogs language – This is something that wasn’t really emphasized when I started training dogs 20 something years ago. Yes, we were aware that dogs relied more on body language than words and that they have their own language, but the nuance of canine communication has been observed and shared in much more detail over the last 20 years. I take every opportunity to educate my students about their dogs body language while they are at the facility. Here’s a link to an awesome video on body language.
Train in short sessions – This will make everyone happy! Lately I’ve been using the phrase “2 minute training” to emphasize not over training your dog. Think about it, every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. If you get one perfect sit you don’t have to ask for ten more! You can actually wreck a perfectly good behavior by asking for it too many times in a row! Each training session should be short and HIGHLY rewarded. Train in different parts of the house too. If you only ever ask for a sit in front of the refrigerator your dog may not quite understand why you’re asking for a sit by the front door!