There are just three steps to train your dog to perform a new behavior.
- Get the behavior to happen. Whether it’s a “sit,” a “shake,” or a “go to your bed,” command, you just need to first either trick the dog into doing it by luring it with a treat, or catch the dog doing the behavior on its own.
- Label the behavior. Choose the command you’ll want to use, such as “fetch,” or “shake” or “down” and exactly when the dog performs the behavior, say the command to “stick” the word to that action.
- Reward! Quickly reward with a treat that’s fast and easy for your dog to eat. A soft, pea-sized treat is best. For the come-when-called command with a toy-driven dog, a quick game with a toy is a big reward too.
These steps work great for any new obedience command. If you’re noticing that your dog isn’t responding well to your training, check that you’re performing the steps correctly until the dog obviously understands what the command means.
If you’re training a command and the dog is not responding consistently, check for these pitfalls:
- Did you label with the command when the dog was not performing the behavior? I see this most commonly when the dog is jumping on someone and its owner says “off” or “down” while the paws are not on the floor. When teaching this, you must label the behavior while paws are on the floor.
- Did you use the label as a command before the dog thoroughly understood the command?
- You can use your leash to make a behavior happen. For instance, practice letting your dog get distracted outdoors with its leash on. Make the “come” behavior happen by snapping the leash toward you, then as the dog moves toward you (look for the dog’s focus to switch to you!) label that and reward when the dog gets all the way to you. If the dog decides to leave you in the middle, snap the leash toward to you again, or lure him in with happy talk to get the dog all the way to you.
- When your dog can respond reliably to the new command under easy, non-distracting conditions, then start adding distractions and challenges to strengthen the dog’s resolve to obey. When you say the command once, you help him obey by placing him in the position or using the leash to remind him how it’s done.
- Practice your skills by teaching fun, easy tricks like “shake,” as you’ll be more relaxed with these fun little games.