The Lost Art of Training Your Dog

Have you ever been at the dog park, and looked with envy at the kelpie who seems almost militaristically obedient to its master? It’s made even worse when you’ve had to run after your AWOL alsatian, or perhaps you’ve failed to keep your russell terrier from rolling in the mud. It is difficult not to feel as though their behaviour reflects poorly on you.

PSA: We don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is not your fault.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do things to make your dog the pride of the park. But sadly, the answer isn’t simply sending them to puppy school. You need to be alpha. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.

From a psychological standpoint, dogs need to be rewarded for good behaviour. They lack the capacity for moral reasoning, and so you must condition them into the desired action. Dog training treats become your most powerful tool in programming your pooch. Like humans, dogs will have preferences for which treats they like, but a safe bet is a dried beef liver. It is healthy, high in protein, and most dogs will roll over to get one. Using dog training treats to reward the positive behaviour will make the following tactics more effective.


1. Step the dog through the behaviour.

We mean that literally. Show the dog training treat so that you have his attention. Clearly articulate the cue (sit, stay, come) and then physically make the dog perform the action. That might mean pressing gently on the lower back to prompt your dog into the sitting position, or it could mean having someone calling come! while another person walks the dog to the caller. The first essential step is that the dog understands the desired outcome. 


2. Give the treat straight away.

When they do the action you have literally made them do, lose your mind with excitement! Make out that they are the first dog to have ever sat! They will recognise the cognitive link between action and reward. Dogs actually read our emotions more accurately than you might think, and if they can associate the obedience with happiness, it starts to become embedded as a behaviour. When that happens, you will start to become that dog owner that makes all the other dog owners aspire to something greater.


3. Don’t do too much at once.

Do you remember at school when you learnt something new, and your brain seemed to fatigue? The same thing is happening to your little hound. So break up your training so that she doesn’t become overwhelmed and disheartened (yes, this happens). 10 minutes a day will always work better than one hour a week (another reason why puppy school is helpful, but by no means a silver bullet).


4. End with something fun.

It is funny how similar this all sounds to teaching humans! Your dog can either come to see these lessons as a chore, or an exciting game.  All the studies show us that a happy dog is a better learner, so end with a play, a wrestle, a walk, or whatever gets your tail wagging.

At the end of the day, you just need to be patient. Like with children, our love for our dogs cannot be determined to their obedience. We love them for who they are, even if we don’t always love their actions. 

So get yourself some dog training treats, and don’t believe the old Lie. Old dogs can absolutely learn new tricks.

November 08, 2021 — Janine Taplin