Based on an article that first appeared at

Walking dogs on leashesJanuary is National Train Your Dog Month. With the start of a new year, it’s a great time to think about the goals you have for you and your dog with dog training. Think about the dogs you see and interact with on a regular basis, out on walks, at the vet’s office, at your friends’ homes. Do you ever think, “man, I wish my dog acted like that” or on the other hand, “I’m glad that’s not my dog”? While some dogs just magically know how to be “good dogs,” most need some guidance to know what their owners want from them. Training serves a few purposes: having a better-behaved dog, strengthening the bond between the dog & owner, and providing mental stimulation for the dog. Let’s talk about a few ways to make training your dog an easier and more attainable goal.


First, think of dog training as communicating with your pet. Most dogs are eager to please their owners, so by showing them what behaviors you want and reinforcing them, you can get them to perform the desired behaviors more consistently. If you want your dog to sit at the door before you go out, ask him to sit, wait for the behavior, and praise. The dog quickly learns that the faster he sits, the sooner he gets to go out for a walk. Timing is important: we want to mark the desired behavior with a reward as soon as it’s performed. In the waiting at the door example, we want to say something like “yes” or “good dog” the second their tail touches the floor. If they stand back up before completing the sit, you can simply put your hand on their tail base and put them back into the sit position without saying anything. Continuing to repeat the command or saying “no” can be confusing for the dog.

Reward System

Next, let’s talk about rewards. Many people think you need to have a pocket full of treats to complete a training session. However, most dogs respond just as well (and in some cases better) to guidance and praise. Have you ever known a dog who wouldn’t sit or lie down without a treat? Most likely in the past, performing the commands without treats wasn’t reinforced. Initially, using treats to teach the dog basic commands will help you get results faster. You might continue to use treats during official dog training sessions, but what happens if he bolts out the front door and only comes to you when you have a treat? In the long run, continuing to work on the behaviors by substituting treats for verbal praise or petting will give the most reliable results. (From personal experience, if you are in a bind and the dog won’t come when called, most of the time turning around and going the opposite direction from the dog will cause him to chase you.)

Man and woman walking dogs on leashes.Dog Training Sessions

Finally, let’s talk about timing. You are most likely a busy person who doesn’t have hours a day to devote to training your dog. On the other hand, you are already doing things like feeding the dog, taking them on a walk, and having guests over; you can turn these experiences into training sessions! Here are some ways to do that:

  • Prepare the dog’s food in an area they don’t have access to. Designate a certain place that you always feed the dogs in. Then, tell the dog “go to your place” and walk them to this area. Ask them to sit, and only once they are sitting and calm down, they get the food.
  • Out on walks, there are many things in the environment that the dog might get distracted by. You can change up the route or routine to keep things interesting. Call their name to get their attention while turning to walk the other direction. Ask the dog to sit at random intervals. Stop and take a few steps backward while calling the dog’s name; this is a good way to work on getting the dog to come when called.
  • If you can, have guests let you know when they are about to arrive. Instead of having them ring the doorbell and the dog goes berserk, watch for them to pull up. Put your dog on a leash and ask him to sit. Then, you can open the door for the guests to enter. Although it may be hard to keep the dog sitting during this excitement, be sure at the very least he doesn’t jump up on the guests. They can pet and greet him as long as his paws stay on the floor.

Becki and her dogThe key thing to remember with dog training is to consistently communicate what you want from them. Practice makes perfect, and you can utilize everyday activities as training opportunities. Before you know it, you could have the dog that people see and say “I wish my dog acted like that.” Don’t wait, train today!

For more insight on how to train your dog, click here!