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7 Practical Dog Training Techniques


Let's explore practical dog training techniques to help your fur baby be happy and calm. There are two different approaches to training your dog - positive reinforcement or fear-based training. Positive reinforcement, also known as force-free dog training, is the most effective way to train your dog rather than using your dominance and intimidation.

Think about dogs that are used to perform important jobs in our society every day. We have guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, herding dogs, and sniffer dogs to name a few.  We look at them with great admiration and think they are so talented and clever. The fact is these dogs are trained using the same techniques we can use to train our dogs at home.  It is simply rewarding their correct behaviour, consistently.

Obedience training is very important for the safety of dogs and their owners.

Let's use the following scenario as an example: After a long day at the dog park, a parent is attempting to buckle a tired, crying child into the rear seat of the car and they have their pet dog with them. Across the road there are many distractions like other dogs playing at the park.  This could be a situation that may distract the dog, tempting them to run across a busy road to get to the park to play some more.

In a situation like this, the dog must be able to remain calm and obey commands to sit or drop and stay. It’s crucial for the dog’s safety and it allows the parent to focus on caring for the child, knowing their dog will do as it’s told. 

Gentle positive reinforcement training techniques will always trump fear and punishment when training your dog.

As a responsible dog owner, it’s important to train your dog with the basic commands that will keep them and others safe. 

7 Practical Dog Training Techniques

Here are 7 practical dog training techniques that should be the minimum training level for every dog.  In general, it is simpler to train dogs when you start earlier. The best time to start teaching a puppy to sit is between 10 and 12 weeks old.

1. Recall

It's important that the dog comes to you when called. This is vital in a variety of situations - even before training begins the dog must come to you. Recall is important so you are always in control. Your dog needs to come to you when you command it. 

Firstly, we need to understand that calling the dog’s name is not a command to come.  Calling their name simply gets their attention. Then the command should follow.  In this case, that’s “COME”. 

Technique for recall:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention.
  2. Give a visual signal to COME by moving the palm of your hand towards you (low to the ground) from an extended position.
  3. Give the voice command COME just as the dog starts moving toward you.
  4. When the dog reaches you praise them and give them a high-value treat.
  5. Repeat (generally any training exercise should take up to 12 times to achieve conditioning). 

2. Sit

Dog sit - 7 Practical Dog Training Techniques by PetWell

One of the simplest dog training activities is teaching a dog to sit, which may be done very early in the training process.

Technique for sit:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention.
  2. Place your hand (which contains a treat) in front of the dog’s nose.
  3. From a standing position, draw your hand upwards to waist height (your body should be upright), and move it over the dog’s head.
  4. Your dog should naturally assume the sit position. As soon as it starts to move into the sit position give the SIT command.
  5. Reinforce by giving the dog the treat along with praise.
  6. Move your hand back into the position beside your waist and repeat at least 12 times.

Train your dog using the above technique in the following situations.
• Waiting to cross a road
• Before they are given a meal
• To put their lead on
• To keep them still 

Eventually, your dog will sit on command. Continue to reward for a while. Then gradually reduce the reward to every second sit, then every fifth sit, then randomly. Your dog will continue to comply in anticipation of the reward if they are unaware of when it will be given next.

3. Drop

Dogs tend to pick up all sorts of things with their mouth.  In situations when they are at the park, on a walk or in any place that has public access, it’s important that your dog doesn’t pick up something it shouldn’t. Such as other dogs' balls at the park, discarded cooked bones near a bbq site or other animal faeces. Even at home, they will steal socks or underwear and it can be challenging to get it back from them.

If your dog understands that you are the Alpha of its pack, then retrieving the item from its mouth is one way to handle it.  But it’s much better if they obey the command of DROP.

Technique for drop:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention and use the recall command of COME.
  2. Ask then to sit in front you while the item (ball) in the dog’s mouth, bring your right hand containing a high-value treat in front of the dog’s nose but not touching it.
  3. The dog will naturally lean forward sniffing the treat from your hand, when the nose touches your hand, open your hand to reveal the treat.
  4. Your dog should release the ball from its mouth as it takes the treat from your hand, as soon as it releases the item give the DROP command.
  5. Reinforce by giving your dog the treat immediately and praising them. 
  6. Take the ball in your left hand and move your right hand back into the position beside your waist.
  7. Repeat several times and with as many different items as you can.
  8. Gradually reduce the reward over time and reward as random re-enforcement.
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4. Leave it

It’s important that the owner (you) is controlling what the dog is allowed to have contact with. 

The LEAVE IT command can be very important for their safety.

For instance, guard dogs are taught to exclusively eat from one person during their training. This is to keep them safe from people who may provide food to security dogs with the intention of poisoning or drugging them.  The same could apply to your dog in the event you are not home, and an intruder enters your property. 

Technique for leave:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention, and place an empty food bowl on the ground.
  2. Bring your dog to the bowl and reach for the bowl whilst holding a treat in your hand.
  3. As your dog leans forward immediately say the LEAVE IT command and reinforce it immediately by giving the treat from your hand.
  4. Using an exaggerated visual signal, encourage your dog away from the bowl immediately after giving the reward. Keep your dog’s attention on you, do not allow them to look at the bowl or move toward the bowl.
  5. Reinforce by giving your dog a treat immediately.
  6. Repeat several times while placing low-value food like vegetables in the bowl.
  7. Repeat again while adding small amounts of meat into the bowl with the vegetables. 
  8. Repeat again while adding only meat (high-value food) to the bowl.

Note: Your dog will want to look at the bowl and see what food items are there – using exaggerated hand signals to encourage the dog to look up at you and not at the bowl. This is the best way to distract it from the bowl. Every time your dog makes eye contact with you or looks to your hand for a treat, reward immediately. 

5. Down

Dog down - 7 Practical Dog Training Techniques by PetWell

The position of lying down is more comfortable for a dog than sitting for prolonged periods. This can be important if the dog needs to be vet examined or when they are being groomed. 

A dog is likely to voluntarily stay laying down longer than it will stay in stand or sit positions. 

Technique for down:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention and use the recall command of COME if needed.
  2. Your dog should sit in front of you and with a treat in your hand, move it towards your dog’s nose.
  3. Move your hand downwards to the ground, whilst taking a very small step backwards. Your dog will follow your hand with the treat in a forward, downward movement.
  4. As soon as the dog follows in a forward, downwards movement, give the DOWN command.
  5. Reinforce by giving your dog the treat immediately and praise when its entire body is down.
  6. Move your right hand back into the position beside your waist quickly.
  7. Repeat the exercise several times, extending the length of time the dog is required to stay down each time.

6. Stay

There are times when we need our dogs to stay.  For example, if we are out and need to run across the road to retrieve something, we should trust that our dog will not follow and stay where it is.

It’s important to first master the SIT command. Do this training in a controlled environment for the safety of your dog.

Technique for stay:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention.
  2. From a sitting position in front of you, keep your hands still and take a small step backwards, give the STAY command as you step backwards.
  3. Step forwards toward your dog and reward if your dog did not move.
  4. Continue repeating this exercise, and remember to give the voice command, each time extending the distance you walk away from your dog.  Each time you go back to your dog, reward them if they did not move.
  5. Once your dog has consistently stayed, use the voice command of STAY, move further and out of sight for a few seconds. 
  6. Repeat the exercise several times, as you extend the time you are out of sight.

Note: Only move up to the next level when the dog is consistently staying. 

7. Heel

Dog heel - 7 Practical Dog Training Techniques by PetWell

Having a dog darting from one side to the other and lunging forwards can be challenging to walk. 

Teaching your dog to walk to heel, (by your side on a loose lead), is a more enjoyable way to walk your dog. 

Start with holding your dog on a short lead so the dog has to walk to heel; say HEEL - then walk on a few paces. Reward with high-value treats as you go. Repeat until your dog understands the HEEL command.  At this point, you will use a long lead for further training. 

Technique for heeling:

  1. Call your dog’s name to gain their attention.
  2. From a standing position with the dog standing or sitting on your left side, carry several high-value treats in your right hand.
  3. Step forward with your left leg first, whilst moving your right hand toward your dog’s nose.
  4. Your dog will step forward at this time. Immediately give the HEEL command and reward with one treat.
  5. Your right hand should quickly return to your side for 2-3 paces, whilst your body is upright, look down at your dog and maintain eye contact.
  6. Present your right hand back in front of your dog’s nose, give the HEEL command a second time and reward simultaneously.
  7. Repeat the exercise several times remembering to reduce treats gradually.

Note: Another effective technique for training your dog to walk at heel is to change direction frequently. Using this technique in conjunction with the above technique is recommended. 

In summary

It’s important to always be consistent and very patient when training your dog. Your dog wants to please you and it will do as you ask.  Using these practical dog training techniques helps your dog stay calm and happy because they know what you want them to do and they are keen to please you.

Most importantly, a trained dog is less likely to run into danger and less likely to be a danger to other dogs and people. 

Read about Understanding Common Dog Behavioural Issues

Disclaimer: The entire contents of this email and website are not to be taken as medical advice. The team at Pet Squad Pty Ltd trading as PetWell encourages you to make your own pet healthcare decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet healthcare professional.

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