Before we decided to adopt Fletcher, we were already researching about how to train a new dog. Like any responsible pet parents, YouTube became our go-to guide for teaching the masters the tricks first. My husband and I came to decide on “house rules” as well as things we wanted to teach our newest addition. Once we brought Fletcher home, I began working with him to see what previous commands and training he had prior to the shelter. If you’re wondering, yes, I did look up commands in German just in case Fletch maybe new another language (unfortunately we cannot add trilingual to this German Shepherd’s resume).
In this post, we are summarizing some training tips that go past the standard list of commands most talk about. Instead of the typical instruction of “sit, stay, come” we are focusing elsewhere. We wanted to shed light on the strategies and structure that we think made training more successful rather than the commands themselves.
First, keep training time short. You aren’t training for a marathon. A little known fact is that studying is best in small increments with breaks in between. This goes for humans and dogs. It is best to keep sessions to 10-15 minutes followed with rest or play. The training itself could be counted as a sort of play, with stimulation and interaction that could tire your dog.
Tip: Be aware of your environment. Training in a quiet place with less stimulation may be more beneficial compared to a bustling area. Changing the environment can be a good test to solidify training once you have it down at home.
Reward your dog as soon it occurs. I see quick rewarding as a starting point as well as a way of keeping your training sharp. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do the entire command properly. When starting off, it may be encouraging to reward even the slightest glimpse of what you are asking your dog to perform. For example, if asking your dog to “sit pretty” on their hind legs, as soon as their front legs leave the ground you could reward them. The dog should be more willing to perform the task knowing they aren’t getting coaxed into something not worthwhile. From there, you can increase the time their front paws are off before rewarding.
Tip: Use resources and training aids to your advantage. Have you ever used a clicker with your dog? The clicker can be another sign of reinforcement and letting the dog know that something great is coming for their best behavior.
Tip: If I use a word cue and Fletcher properly executes, I make sure to use excited praise while repeating the cue. Positive reinforcement always pays off more than negative reinforcement.
Wait to feed your dog. If you have a set time you plan on training, hold out on giving your dog their food bowl. This applies if your dog is an eat-all-at-once type or more of a grazer. This can be helpful even if your dog is not food/treat motivated. Fletcher is more excited about being praised but will gladly take a gift of food that is handed to him. However, you will need to decide what to use if giving treats with training. We simply used Fletcher’s normal kibble as his “treat reward”. There are also options that are healthier or less caloric intake than giving full-blown treats for each good deed.
Up the difficulty as you get into it. I started with hand gestures and word cues. As Fletcher began to get the hang of things, I would subtract an intention I show (aka the gesture or verbal cue). It has proved helpful in all sorts of situations, like therapy dog visits, where I can silently have Fletch perform a command.
Keep training in your routine. Once your dog has mastered the tricks, don’t throw all the work to the wayside. Refresh your dog’s memory and incorporate it into daily life if possible. You can ask something of them before laying out their food or make them wait until being told to come up onto furniture. I like Fletcher to sit and wait for my approval before crossing the street or hopping in the car. Any practice is good practice.
We hope these are useful and helpful to your training sessions with your furry companions. Know of any methods that worked for you? Please let us know in the comments below!
For the sake of training, here is Fletch’s graduation photo from the first formal training class we brought him to. Enjoy!
Hi! I’m Marleigh. I am a nurse, military spouse and proud human to @fletcher_the_pup. We are lovers of dogs and adventures, especially in combination. Fletcher is a shepherd mix who is a puppy at heart and loves being around others. His big ears only add to his even bigger personality. Fletch is definitely the most photogenic person in the family and we hope our experiences can bring some joy to other peoples lives.