With just 5 minutes of training a day...
Regardless of age, breed, background, and ability — EVERY dog is able to learn new tricks. And just five minutes a day will not only help your pup learn new things, it will improve their mental state, safety, and overall wellbeing.
And, as an added bonus, the time you put in with your dog — even just five minutes each day — can be a lot of fun for both of you.
The 6 Most Important Cues To Teach Your Dog
As with most types of education there are many methods of dog training to choose from. For training to be most successful and humane, make sure to choose a collaborative, positive, and FORCE-FREE methodology. Avoid "dominance theory" methods (i.e., "alpha roll," etc.), aversives (e.g., shock, prong, and pinch collars) and punishments. Instead, work with treats, praise, a clicker, and lots of patience. This way it'll be a lot more successful and enjoyable for you and your dog. There are links to great force-free trainers and their sites at the end of this article.
Six behaviors to work on that'll help your dog stay out of danger
- SIT: Teaching your dog to "SIT" gives them a polite way to greet new people and gives you more control in a variety of situations. Your dog can't be jumping on someone when they're sitting nicely for attention instead. It's usually the first thing people will ask your dog to do when they first approach, and it's easy to teach! Start by teaching your dog how to sit with no distractions as shown in the first video below, and then make it harder by practicing when greeting new people as shown in the second video.
- STAY: This is a very important longer-term command for when you want your dog to stay in place, not follow you or move forward. Especially for city dogs, this command is useful whenever waiting to cross the street. A good healthy “STAY” assures your dog doesn’t dart off the curb into traffic. "STAY" is a great cue for dogs who get easily distracted or like to chase wildlife. Knowing your dog won't move until you tell them it's okay by using your chosen release cue (such as "Okay!" or "Free!") gives you peace of mind and keeps them safe. STAY should become part of your daily routine. Check out the video below on how to build a solid "STAY" cue with your dog.
- DOWN: Being able to ask your dog to lay down gives you freedom to enjoy everyday activities without having to constantly manage your dog. You can go to the coffee shop with friends and your dog can settle next to you if you've taught them the "DOWN" cue. During mealtime, you can prevent your pup from begging at the table if they know how to"DOWN" on their bed. It's easier and more comfortable for dogs to stay in the down position longer than a sit position, and helps them calm down if they've gotten over-excited about something. "DOWN" can be a more difficult cue for some dogs to learn, so play around with different training techniques to find the one that works best with your dog. This video goes over 5 different ways to teach your dog to "DOWN":
- COME: This is the most important command in keeping your dog safe and out of danger. Whenever you are physically separated from your dog, and you see any sign of approaching trouble, you’ll want your dog to head straight to you as fast as they can — and NOT run towards the trouble. "COME" should always be completed with a reward —if not a treat, then a game of tug, or lots of praise and petting. You want your dog to associate that coming to you is always worth it, even if it means not running after that squirrel. Learn how to build a reliable recall around distractions by watching these two videos:
- LEAVE IT: Dogs are likely to find anything and everything during their day. Garbage, dead animals, poop, antifreeze, chocolate, whatever. If it’s something they should stay clear of — they always seem to find it. Work closely with your dog so when they hear “LEAVE IT,” they know to turn their head up towards you, and away from whatever is on the ground. Start easy when teaching your dog this cue. By building a strong foundation, you'll have better success when you increase the difficulty and ask your puppy to leave a very enticing piece of garbage alone while on a walk.
- DROP IT: OK … so your dog didn’t "LEAVE IT," and now it’s in their mouth. Instead of you reaching in and grabbing whatever horrible thing they’ve got, a well-practiced “DROP IT” can come in very handy. Opening your dog’s mouth to reach in and take what they're holding can often result in your dog swallowing the item or you getting bitten. This can also lead to either choking, poisoning, or ingesting something that may have to be taken out at your nearest Animal ER. "DROP IT" is best practiced with your dog’s favorite ball or toy and lots of treat rewards for a job well done. Playing tug is a great training game to build this behavior and teaches your dog that if they willingly drop an item on cue, they're rewarded with more fun.
Teaching hand signals is not just for deaf dogs
Another great idea is to add hand signals to each of these commands. Hand signals are great for several reasons.
- Dogs are non-verbal, so they rely primarily on body language to communicate. Hand signals are body language cues that tell your dog what is expected of them. Dogs learn hand signals easier and sooner than verbal commands.
- Hand signals train your dog to keep their eyes on you — not what’s going on all around them.
- Sometimes, in situations with lots of noise and commotion, your dog may not be able to hear you correctly. Knowing the proper hand signal for each command helps you communicate through all the audio clutter.
- Many dogs lose their hearing at certain parts of their life. Knowing hand signals will give then a leg up on your communication if their hearing ever deteriorates.
Here are a couple excellent resources (all short videos) to help get you started on teaching hand signals to your dog.
Train For Life
Don’t listen to that old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s just not true. Your dog can keep learning new things throughout their entire life. They WANT to keep learning, so keep challenging your dog. Keep rewarding and celebrating their success. It’s proven to be beneficial for BOTH you and your pup.
In addition to all the mental and physical benefits to keeping your dog in training throughout their life, training can also keep your dog safe, and less likely to get into trouble.
Here are some great training sites and additional resources:
Do you have a cat?
If you have a cat there's some basic training for them too, so check it out. And who knows … in time, maybe your four-legged kiddos will make honor roll just like Nana (the dog) and Kaiser (the cat) do in this video!