Howling, chewing, excessive barking – every pet parent is responsible for ensuring their dog learns positive behaviours. No matter your dog’s age, breed, or size, it’s never too late to teach them a new trick or two.

When we first bring a furry pal into our lives, most of us envision a four-legged friend that’s wagging its tail beside us on our morning walk or sitting patiently at the door every afternoon while we get home from work. But, instead of the picture-perfect pup greeting us with endless affection, our beloved canines can sometimes surprise us with chewed-up pillows, excited, non-stop barking, and potty accidents on our freshly cleaned floors, or worse, carpet. 

While these behaviours are natural, they can be overwhelming at first because the reality is every dog needs appropriate training. Just like how we humans learn what’s right and wrong, dogs too need to be taught how to behave.

How teachable and trainable is your dog?

The great news is, man’s best friend is a lot smarter than you think. Studies by scientists have shown that dogs are capable of learning hundreds of words and paying attention to speech. Dr. John Pilley, a psychology professor at Wofford College in South Carolina and owner of the world’s most intelligent dog, makes Chaser a living proof. At two months old, the young Border Collie was already learning proper nouns like “blue ball.” In five months, Chaser already knew 40 words. And in her lifetime, she could identify over 1,000 nouns.

While most of us may not have the patience or technique of Dr. Pilley, it’s good to know that training your dog can be a fun and rewarding process. Not only does this strengthen the bond with your pet, but teaching obedience also helps create a routine, eliminates bad habits, and sets your dog up for safe public interactions.

There are a few different training methods available such as clicker and relationship-based, but one of the best-proven techniques is positive reinforcement. This is a passive approach where your dog is rewarded with treats, affection, and toys for their good behaviour.

Doggie training 101

Before starting, be sure to consider the environment where you’ll be training your puppy. For example, a quiet space that’s free of distractions is ideal. By setting a designated training area, your dog will learn to associate this spot with rewards. Here’s a simple guide on what to do next: 

  1. Keep the sessions short and sweet!   You don’t want to overwhelm your pup, so try starting with three sessions per day at 5-minute intervals. 

  2. Hold short training sessions multiple times a day – this is the key to teaching younger pups. 

  3. Extend your training periods as your dog becomes more comfortable and confident. 

  4. Have your pet’s favourite treats, and toys handy as big rewards for doing the right thing will get their tail wagging! 

  5. Demonstrating positive reinforcement is as easy as using your voice! Happy tones for praise, a clear tone for commands, and a firm tone for ‘no.’ 

  6. Make it fun:   If your dog is not enjoying the training session, it’s unlikely that it will yield any results. Enjoy the bonding time and look out for signs of fatigue. If you can sense that your pet is getting bored, pause the session and reconvene at a later time.

  7. Remember to praise your puppy outside of training sessions when they show positive behaviours.

  8. Randomise rewards and behaviours so your dog understands that they should always behave positively. Randomise putting the leash on, calling them, and repeat these actions multiple times so your dog is likely to have recall down packed!

  9. Set the same boundaries with everyone in the household. Reward your pup the same way and keep a structured routine for better training results.  

Training schedule by age 

8-10 weeks old 

  • Teaching your pup obedience from a young age helps curb unwanted behaviours down the track. For this reason, the moment your dog steps its first paw in your home, you can start training them. 

  • Set a structured daily routine that involves feeding, play, training, toilet breaks, and nap time. 

  • The key to successful toilet training is looking for signs that indicate your pooch needs to go to the toilet. If your pup happens to go on a sniff-ari, is fidgeting or circling, take them to the selected toilet area immediately. Praising your puppy for using the correct toilet area will help them to recognise this place as the toilet. Watch our video for tips.

  • Introduce basic commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘come.’ Teaching these commands from a young age will make for a solid training foundation and help to reinforce positive behaviours.

  • Saying your dog’s name throughout your daily training sessions will come in handy when teaching more complex commands such as ‘stay’ or ‘leave it’

  • If your pup is teething, give them a chew toy so they won’t go for your nice couch! It also helps relieve their discomfort while keeping them busy. 

10-12 weeks old

  • Introduce simple commands such as ‘place’, ‘down’, and ‘heel’. To motivate and reward, use your puppy’s favourite toy or treats 

  • Get your dog used to a leash and harness. It’s natural for a puppy to pull when walking on lead, so every time your dog pulls in front, change the direction and reward them with a treat.

4-6 months old

  • Start holding training sessions at the park to teach your dog how to cope with distractions. 

  • Combine instructions. For example, ‘sit’ and ‘place’. Swap out the treats for a toy or reward them with affection instead. 

  • Increase your dog’s training periods by extending the length of the walk.

  • Once your puppy has received all of its vaccinations, they can begin to socialise with other pups. During the early stages of your pup’s life, introduce them to as many adults and children as possible. Dedicating time to your puppy’s socialisation can result in a friendly and well-behaved dog. 

6 months-1 years old

  • Keep reinforcing all the desired behaviours your puppy has learned. 

  • Occasionally throw in a basic training session with your dog. An easy session will help boost their confidence and engagement in future lessons. 

  • Increase the difficulty of commands by holding them for extended periods, trying different combinations and practising in new environments. 

  • Maintain behavioural standards for when it comes to chewing, toilet accidents, and other unwanted actions.

Can an old dog learn new tricks?

Contrary to pup-ular belief, dogs can learn at any age! Training an adult dog is usually more manageable as they have more self-control and a basic understanding of positive behaviours. However, if your dog is an older, untrained rescue, you may need to set aside some time to rectify those bad habits.

It’s also good to know that training will help exercise a dog’s mental fitness and bring structure into their life. It can also assist with social skills and help prevent stress in environments outside of their comfort zone.

When training a senior dog, do keep their health status and age in mind. Your vet can also advise you about your dog’s exertion levels and check for physical limitations. Before your sessions, try to narrow down what your pooch has already learned. The more complex commands come from the basis of easier ones, so this will be a good indicator of where you should start.

Tips on training your senior dog

Whether your dog’s behaviour is not up to scratch or your senior rescue is having some behavioural issues, the good news is that any dog can learn positive behaviours with dedication and patience! When starting out:

  • Keep the training sessions short, starting with 5-10 minutes a day. 

  • Gage your dog’s attention and prolong the training time if they seem eager to continue. Don’t push your pet if they become fatigued.

  • Behavioural issues such as separation anxiety, barking, and misusing the toilet can be common issues in senior dogs, so don’t worry.

Here is a list of ways to help your pooch overcome negative behaviours. 

Crate training

  • Introducing a crate into their routine creates a safe place for your dog and prevents wandering paws from harm. 

  • Take your time to familiarise your dog to crate training. Add treats, a bed, and a blanket to make them feel comfortable. 

  • Start by placing your pet’s favourite treats on both the inside and outside of the crate. If your dog ignores this action, repeat this step over the next week until they can walk inside without hesitation. 

  • Once your dog is comfortable with the crate, place their meals inside. If they’re showing a little anxiety, let them dine next to the crate.

  • When you feel that your dog is ready, confine them to the crate for short periods while you’re home. Switch between leaving your dog alone and supervising them so they begin to adjust to the idea of being left alone.

  • Crate training isn’t suitable for every dog, so speak to your vet first.

Barking

  • Invest in a Kong or a chew toy. Before leaving the house, stuff the toy with food; this will help distract your dog and save you the noise complaints! 

  • Use the positive reinforcement method. If your dog is barking, ask them to be ‘quiet’ and reward them with a treat.

Potty training

  • Prior to toilet training, determine whether your senior dog has had any previous training experience and assess their health status and anxiety levels. 

  • Consider your dog’s personality and amend the routine to suit their needs. 

  • Use a crate to speed up the potty-training process.

6 commands every dog should learn

  1. Sit: Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose while moving your hand upwards. When your dog has lowered itself, say ‘sit’ and reward them.

  2. Come: For this one, you’ll need a leash and collar! Lower yourself to your dog’s level and tell them to ‘come’ while pulling on your dog’s leash. Follow up with a reward of your choice!

  3. Down: Have a treat in your hand and keep it closed. As you slide your hand along the ground, say ‘down’ and end with a treat!  

  4. Stay: Ask your dog to both ‘sit’ and ‘stay’. Once your pet has understood the commands, reward them with affection for staying still. 

  5. Leave it: Put a treat in both of your hands. Show your dog one closed fist while asking them to ‘leave it.’ Once your dog has given up on getting the treat, give them the treat from your other hand. Repeat this step until your dog has learned to ignore your hands when you tell them to ‘leave it’. 

  6. Drop it: Hand your dog its favourite toy. Once they have started playing with the object, use a release word such as ‘drop it’. This command can be a lifesaver if they happen to pick up a dangerous item in the future.

 


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