Do you have a feeling that your dog is not listening to you? Training starts with getting and keeping your dog’s attention, but this can sometimes be frustrating. A failure to get your dog to listen can also lead to other bad behavior.
Proper training can improve your dog’s focus and ensure that he or she is always listening to you when you are their attention, however. This starts by understanding the training process.
Breaking Down the Training Process
First of all, you need to set your dog up for success. Your dog wants to listen, and dogs are highly social animals who thrive on praise from their pack-mates. Positive reinforcement will give you better long-term results than punishment, and it is very important that you do the right things to help your dog focus during each training session.
Here are some ways to establish a training process that will help your dog work with you:
Train After Play
Dogs that have a lot of pent up energy have just one thing on their minds: releasing their pent up energy! Your dog will focus better on what you need him or her to do if they have had some exercise to relieve excess excitement or stress. Do your training sessions after a walk or a session at the dog park “at least to start” and play some fun games before going into serious training if your dog is particularly energetic.
Some people have issues with treats, but training with them helps support positive reinforcement. You will be able to reduce the number of treats over time. Make sure to use small treats so you are not giving your dog too many extra calories, and use treats your dog can eat quickly!
The most important thing is to use treats your dog likes, and you may have to try a few before finding the right ones. Even when your dog is trained, keeping a few treats with you is a good idea for helping them work through difficult situations.
Keep the environment calm and quiet to start. Yes, you eventually want your pooch to listen in the middle of a crowded dog park with fun playmates everywhere and an ambulance going by, but that’s something to build up to. Start training at home, with the television off, in a room in which your dog is comfortable. Some people find classical music helps, but if so keep it quiet to ensure you and your dog can hear you clearly.
Introduce Verbal Cues
The next step is to graduate from treats to verbal cues or the use of a clicker (affiliate link). Your dog will, over time, realize that a calm “good dog” is praise. Start by giving the treat and the verbal praise at the same time. Make sure you deliver verbal praise in a happy tone your dog can recognize. Dogs are good at detecting the meaning of some words, but they do still listen to our tone a lot and each dog is different. Pay attention to what works for yours.
Too many dog owners think they can start doing complicated obedience routines right away. Instead, you should start small. Consider following this process:
Call your dog’s name. Reward for a look in your direction, then for them starting to move over, and graduate to them coming to you to get their reward. All animal training is about doing the right thing as easily as possible. It’s called “rewarding the try,” and it makes it clear to your dog what is expected without pushing them past their initial levels of understanding.
Introduce Simple Commands
If your dog will come when called, it’s time to start introducing simple commands such as sit and stay. Each time, follow the same rule of “rewarding the try.” For example, when teaching sit, reward for the dog’s butt starting to descend, then for it touching the ground, then increase the length of the sit. You may need to physically put your dog in sit and stay to start if they aren’t familiar with the concept, but be sure to do so gently.
Once you have the basics down, it’s time to work on starting to listen in more distracting environments. You need your dog to listen regardless of what is going on around them, but it’s easier to listen and focus when there are fewer interruptions.
Start with small distractions, like:
- Turning on the TV or radio.
- Going out into the backyard to train.
- Training with toys present, building up to teaching your dog to stay even when you throw a ball.
- Adding distracting smells.
- Getting a friend with another dog to help so your dog learns to focus on you, not their friends.
The key here is to make sure the reward of behaving is stronger than the reward the distraction offers. This might mean treats or a quick game. For example, after teaching your dog to ignore the thrown ball, then let them chase it. Your dog may find some distractions easy to ignore and others more challenging, but practice makes perfect.
Always be fair on your dog. Very few dogs can ignore a raw steak (although some are capable), for example. If your dog stops listening altogether, it’s a good sign that it’s time to end the training session and let them relax.
Find More Tips for Getting Your Dog to Listen to You
Remember that you aren’t asking your dog to do something particularly easy, as focusing on you while the world is crazy around them is hard. However, distraction training will eventually get your dog to listen and, importantly, to default to focusing their attention toward you when they are not sure what to do.
Also, remember that training is a process. A “fully trained” dog still needs refreshers every now and then to avoid backsliding. Make it fun for both you and your dog, and engage in regular, short sessions to keep you both bonding and making progress. Happy training!
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