Top Tier Training Tips for Dogs of Any Age

August 19, 2021

Dogs from puppies to seniors enjoy using their brain to figure out puzzles; and training them is the biggest brain teaser there is. Regardless of age or background, all dogs can be taught basic commands and many can even go beyond that to learn tricks.

It can be a fun and engaging activity that bonds you with your dog. It can also be difficult and frustrating at times if you are unsure of what tools you need. To train your dog at home you will need a few things: a background knowledge of what to do, a few supplies, and patience.

Keep reading to help equip yourself with what you need to make training fun and easy!

Understanding Motivators

No two dogs are made the same and understanding what motivates yours may involve trying a few options. The main categories of motivators are: foods, toys, or praise.

For food motivated dogs, you can use a portion of their kibble from breakfast or dinner for your training session. Higher-value treats like dried sardines, canned tuna, boiled chicken, or bits of hot dogs are great to try out for stubborn pets too.

If your pup is a picky eater, no matter what you offer as a treat they may not respond to it, so, opt for the toy or praise options first. The toy should be anything their eyes are glued to.

No matter what method you choose, the tool that will work best is the one that makes you the most interesting thing around (even more interesting than the squirrels and other dogs you may pass while training!).

Minimize Time with the Motivators

If your pup is motivated by bright blue tennis balls, then only break them out during your training sessions and put them away afterwards. Giving them access to something that excites them for short periods of time helps them stay engaged and focused.

For dog food this is not a possibility of course, so consider incorporating lower calorie training treats into the routine if utilizing the food-motivated method. Only give your pooch their favorite non-kibble treat during training and differentiate them from the everyday treats.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind while training your dog is that it may take a little longer than expected. After all, you are learning something new, too! Know that practice really does make perfect.

Be easy on yourself. Even the less efficient training days where the tricks are not executed to perfection are still a really special bonding experience for your dog. They just love being with you and the skills they pick up are an added bonus for them.

List of Must-Try Items for Training

For the foodies:

  • Pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, they’re different! Pumpkin pie filling has spices that will not do your pup’s tummy any good). It also helps to put this in a squeeze bottle for less messy disbursement of the goods.
  • Dried sardines
  • Canned tuna (this should be given in small amounts as it is very fatty)
  • Boiled chicken
  • Salmon treats
  • Peanut butter
  • Applesauce (unflavored)
  • Freeze-dried dog food
  • Cereal

For the toy-chasers:

  • Tennis balls
  • Frisbees
  • Tug-o-war
  • Squeaky toys

For the praise-seekers

Dogs can learn up to 165 words or phrases on average with the brainiac breeds being able to learn up to 250! Interestingly, one that you might use every day “good boy” or “good girl” probably shouldn’t be your go to. When we attach multiple meanings to words, their understanding of it gets fuzzy.

Your word to get them to come inside at a leisurely pace from the yard should be different than your recall command that means “get to my side immediately, there’s a problem”.

The same concept goes for praise. Pick words that can exclusively have one meaning and even if it is completely unrelated to the task at hand, if you say it in a loving tone your pet is sure to pick up the meaning.

Let your kids pick out what some of your training words can be, “good job!” can be “bananas!” or something even sillier. Training is a time to get the whole family involved and make it enjoyable for all.

Suggested Supplies

(Suitable for all dogs regardless of their motivator source)

  •       Six-foot leash
  •       Harness
  •       The motivator source that works for your pet
  •       An area as free of distraction as you can get – a backyard, park at non-peak hours, or even a parking lot can work
  •       Water – training takes a lot out of them!

Where to Start

You might be thinking, “there are so many commands, where do I begin?”. Believe it or not, there is something even simpler than “sit”; eye contact!

As you walk around the training zone you’ve chosen, reward them with a simple word like “yes!” every time they look back at you, and follow your “yes!” with a treat or reward that aligns with what best motivates them. Rewarding them every time they do this right connects you with your pet and teaches them to look to you for guidance. It also encourages them to listen for commands and stay close by.

Once they understand that certain actions elicit a “yes!” and reward from you, they will try to figure out what else they can do to get the same thing to happen again.

You can even try expanding on what they already know. For instance, if your dog knows the command “lay down”, pay attention to how they are laying and if both of their legs line up with their front ones, wait to say “yes!” until they shift their weight to one side. Laying in a more relaxed position can actually relax your dog and it also takes them longer to stand up; making them work their mind and body just a little bit harder for that reward.

A well-trained dog is a happy dog because having manners means they can go more places with you. Behaving well is key for the highest levels of safety when out and about. Training, and the rewards it brings, strengthens trust between dog parent and pet and opens up a new world of places to explore together and possibilities of adventure.