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Like any other relationship, the best dog training is about building trust.
Training is not about control. It’s first and foremost about communication and managing the situations a dog is put in. Every cue or command is a conversation between you and your dog. Dogs don’t come into the world knowing how to live within the context of human environments or expectations—they must be taught. And you can (and should!) teach old dogs new tricks.
Not every dog needs to be an AKC Canine Good Citizen. For most dogs, being able to execute just a handful of skills and commands with confidence and consistency is enough to create a safe and enriching environment for them. To that end, dog and cat insurer ManyPets compiled a list of basic commands most dogs can pick up quite easily at home, along with tips for setting up an environment for success.
Several camps exist in the world of dog training, particularly over the use of negative versus positive reinforcement, but science is disproving a long-held belief that owners must assert themselves as the alpha or pack leader, lest a dog gets ideas of grandeur. While training puppies is slightly easier because they aren’t simultaneously unlearning bad habits, there is no age at which dogs stop learning. Lifelong training can improve dogs’ overall health and happiness.
Sharing a language and a set of vocabulary with your dog can be the difference between a pet gobbling up the toxic ibuprofen you dropped on the floor or walking away when you tell them to “leave it;” coming when called or chasing that squirrel across the park; and a dog never leaving the confines of a yard or being able to join you on walks through the neighborhood.
When you’ve mastered the basics, you can level up training by incorporating the three D’s of dog training: distance, duration, and distraction. But before jumping into training cues, it’s essential to take time to learn about what motivates your dog. This will be how you reward them, so it’s important to know what they’ll work for. Dogs who are food-motivated will work for most treats. Other dogs may be more eager to work for a favorite toy, verbal praise, or owner affection.
Every dog is different and will learn at its own pace. Just like it would be unfair for someone to expect a child to go from learning addition to learning algebra, it is also unfair to expect your dog to go from learning what a leash is to proper heeling in a week. Patience, praise, and consistency are vital to helping your dog progress. There are endless resources at your disposal to help you on your training journey, from video tutorials and veterinarian consultations to professional trainers and dog training classes—so don’t lose heart if a skill or method isn’t working. Set achievable milestones for you and your dog and remember that training should be an act of love above all else.