If you’re new to dog training you’ll soon find out that training sessions run deeper than clicks and treats.
So what’s the deal to get the most out of your training sessions?
It’s all about management.
Managing training sessions will do two very important things…
- Firstly, you’ll have a dog that’s fully engaged and ready to work.
- And secondly, you’ll squeeze the most potential from every session.
And as dedicated pooch parents, that’s what we want. So although these 5 things are simple, they are very powerful.
To help myself, and you keep these 5 things in mind when working with our dogs, I made a super simple acronym to follow.
But first, here are those 5 things you should keep in mind…
- Train in a distraction-free environment.
- Keep training sessions brief.
- Use high-value rewards.
- Pick the best time for your dog.
- Train when your dog is hungry.
So the acronym breaks down into:
environmenT, bRief, vAlue, tIme, huNgry.
Digging Deeper into T.R.A.I.N
The environment is the first thing to consider. If the environment is wrong, then everything else will become more difficult.
So when you start out training a new behavior, work in a distraction-free environment.
The last thing you want is to be competing with other dogs, people, scents or anything else your dog might find more interesting (like squirrels!).
That’s not to say you should never raise the criteria. As your dog becomes fluid in a behavior, you should take it on the road and make things more complicated.
Practicing in areas with more distractions is essential to a reliable dog. But to begin with, you want to train in an environment you have control over.
In dog training, less is always more. And that definitely applies to the length of your training sessions.
If you make them too long, your dog will check out and learning will take a nosedive.
How long sessions should be, depends on your dog. You know your dog best, and it’ll be obvious to you when your dog is no longer engaged.
The rule of thumb here is to end a session while your dog still wants more.
Don’t wait until your dog is bored. End on a high note so that your dog is still engaged.
The reward you offer is payment for a job well done. But if your pooch thinks the reward is not worth working for, they will check out of training.
Most dogs will work for food. But if your pooch prefers a toy or belly rub, that’s perfect too. It’s a total myth that you can’t train dogs without treats.
All you need to know is what your dog is willing to work for.
You can check out this article to learn how to get your dog to show you how they rate food rewards.
Want to know which toys are your pups favorite? You can use the same method to find out which toys your dog rates the highest.
Just like us, our dogs have their ‘ideal’ times during the day where they are most alert and eager to be productive.
And this is great for you to capitalize on. Watch your pooch for a few days and note when they are busy. Then you’ll know exactly when to slot training sessions into their day.
As an example, my crew is super busy in the mornings until after breakfast time. Then again at around 4 pm, their energy levels increase.
So this gives me plenty of room to set up training sessions for the best results.
If your pooch is hungry, they are going to be more invested in the training. This is important if you’re working with a doggo that’s not into working for food.
Update: The beauty of constant development in the field of dog training is that we as owners learn more about how to help our dogs function optimally.
Recently I came across a small study that suggests hungry dogs are not necessarily more motivated to train. In fact, for some dogs being hungry will affect their ability to focus and concentrate.
So what does this mean for you and your training session? Well, if your dog eats a mainly kibble-based diet, I recommend offering them a fresh, low-carb meal an hour or so before training.
Something like scrambled eggs will do the trick just fine. It’ll give your dog the nutrition and energy they need to perform well during training.
If your dog eats a raw diet like my crew does, then play it by ear to see whether they need a pick-me-up meal an hour or so before training.
And if you’re keeping an eye on your pooches’ weight, just give them a little less food during mealtimes.
The bottom line is we want our dogs to be motivated by food, but we still want them to have the sustenance they need to focus, perform optimally, and above all enjoy training.
Wait, There’s More!
Before I go, I want to highlight two small things that changed the way I approach training…
The first thing is to always go into a training session with intent. Ask yourself; “What do I want to achieve with the session?” And then set your sessions up with your goal in mind.
It helps to have a training journal to keep track of what you and dog have accomplished. And what’s planned for the future.
Next, if you find your dog is not invested in the session, or there’s no enthusiasm, cut the session short and try again later.
There’s no point in trying to force a session if it’s just not happening. All it will do is disengage your dog, and frustrate you.
Actively managing sessions with my dogs has bumped up training to new levels. It’s not brain surgery, so it’s super easy to implement right away.
I hope these tips will help make your training sessions more fun and engaging.
Image Credit: Flickr via CC 2.0.
My name is Prashant.
I’m very new and don’t know anything about dogs but few months back my brother brought GS and no one trained her and they usually yells at her and beat her for her behaviours since I live in another city I was not there but now I’m with my family and I’m giving training to her and she is also very good girl..now she is 6 months old and I taught her basic sit command she play with me ball game and trying your techniques for more… I m having a problem that she barks very loud to strangers as well as street dogs and won’t listen me also when I took her out she barks at everyone and I couldn’t control her coz of her grownup size.. I want to train her so well please guide me and give me advice please
Thank you for your questions. And thank you for taking this sweet girl under your care and protecting her from yelling and beatings. I hope that she will become your dog and that you will be her main caregiver because it sounds like the other people around her have little patience for a young puppy. She’s lucky to have you!
My first piece of advice is to temporarily suspend walks out in public while you work on teaching your puppy to focus on you. This article contains detailed step-by-step advice on how to teach a focus cue. It will also give you a good understanding of triggers and thresholds and how they affect a dog’s ability to listen well in highly charged situations.
Once your puppy has learned that focusing on you is worth it and brings good things instead of yelling and beatings, you’ll have a puppy that’s ready to learn because she’s calmer.
In the meantime, while walks are suspended, you can give her the exercise and mental enrichment she needs at home by playing a range of different games with her. This article has a set of games you can play outside or even inside depending on the space you have available.
I think these are good places to start, and once you’ve taught your puppy a good focus behavior, you are welcome to email me for more tips. But the first step is definitely to get her to respond to a focus cue and training this in a positive way will also help to build a bond with you and restore the lost trust due to her negative experiences with yellings and beatings.
Hi Gabriella I have a 12 wk old gsp he is so smart, doesn’t bark much, doing good on potty training, picks up tricks quickly, we just can’t get him to stop nipping or wanting to bite at our feet. How do we get him to stop?
Thank you for your question! And well done on the training progress so far!! 😀
Now is the best time to start working on teaching your smart boy bite inhibition in a fun and force-free way. If you haven’t already, check out these 4 games I recommend to teach a soft mouth.
I have used these methods for years to teach my young pups as well as older rescues the rules of engagement when it comes to mouth play. For now, I’d stick to the build-a-bridge and nose targeting games.
You could do a little redirection (with go fetch) too but keep those short in both time and distance since Shep pups really should only take part in natural play to preserve their joints that are not fully set yet. Tugging I prefer for pups older than 6 months, once most of the teething is done.
But definitely start with the first 2 games and see how you go. I’m always around if you’ve got questions about these methods.
Also, there may be times when he’s just super revved up and at this time playing these games will likely encourage him to practice these behaviors. So, it’s totally fine to gently lead him to his crate, ex-pen, or a sectioned off area like behind a baby gate. Give him something safe to chew on like a chew toy and just allow him to chill for a bit.
This is not about punishment so it’s always a gentle experience and he should still be able to see and hear the goings-on of the environment and family around him. It’s really just a way to kindly put him in a calmer situation and prevent him from practicing those unwanted biting and nipping behaviors.
Hope this helps! Let me know how you get on.
Chat soon and Happy Training!
As an active participant in Dog Working Trials I found your article on dog training really helpful. As a result I now split my training sessions so I do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
These shorter periods are working really well and my eighteen month old German Shepherd x Dutch Herder is responding enthusiastically.
I am having a problem teaching her to speak on command though. I have taught this to all my previous GSD’s but despite trying everything you suggest plus ideas of my own I’m really struggling. The irony is that she is the most vocal dog I have ever had, which I believe is a common trait in Dutch Herders.
Have you any ideas please.
Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m so pleased you’ve found this valuable.
In terms of barking on cue, some dogs don’t feel comfortable barking “at” their owner in the initial training stage. And it’s difficult to move on from there. Is this what’s happening?
Ze my male GSD isn’t a big barker as a rule. He saves his barking for when he thinks there’s a real threat! So baking “at” me was totally foreign to him. I found that using the highest value treat in his eyes helped a lot. for Ze it’s cheese, for your girl it might be something else. Check out this article and skip to the section “The Power of Food in Dog Learning”, there’s a little experiment you can do so your girl can show you which treats she values the highest above all.
In the training session start by giving her a few nibbles of her highest valued treat just so she knows you have them. Then ramp up the excitement with your voice, body language (movement from you will work well here) and of course a treat in your fingers that she can see, smell but not have – yet!
Also, you know her really well so you’ll be able to pick up on the most subtle cue that she’s thinking about barking. Look for cues like an open mouth, ears moving back, head slightly raised. And even jumping behavior. If it looks like she’s thinking of barking, click or give your verbal cue and reward. Sometimes dogs just need that extra step so they learn it’s actually okay to bark “at” us for this training.
Also, listen for very slight vocal cues. Playful throat growls and even little grunts. Anything that sounds like she’s thinking of or wants to vocalize, mark and reward that. Again, it’s just that extra step she might need.
I hope this helps! Let me know how you get on with it.
Ive had my dog since a puppy he’s 18 mth now . He barks if a new person visits so we have to put him in room let visitors in sit them down before letting Riley back out and he’s fine . Also we can only walk him at night as he barks at people but looks aggressive due to his size . I’ve tried treats ignoring him . Hrs such a good dog when just round family he’s so loving and clever . But running out of ideas over barking
Thanks for reaching out with your comment.
German Shepherds are renowned for their territorial behavior but there are steps you can take to help Riley be more comfortable with welcoming new visitors. Also, if he didn’t have a lot of socializing around people and dogs in his territory when he was younger, this could also be a reason why he’s more likely to take time to adjust to visitors.
The first thing to note is that barking is a self-rewarding behavior, so even if you totally ignore it, Riley still gets rewarded merely from the act of barking. In the same breath though, doing anything like trying to quiet him will also be a reward.
So with barking (which is something I dealt with extensively when I adopted my GSD Charley) is to have an understanding of triggers and thresholds. I wrote about these two concepts in this article and also share training tips on how to teach focus. Focus is a great skill for dogs to have because it teaches them to look to you for guidance.
Once Riley has mastered focusing on you, you can start working on desensitizing and counter-conditioning. The essence of this is to teach Riley two things. One is that his triggers (visitors) are not bad. And two, is that good things happen when his triggers are around. This article on barking has a graphic what explains this well. Just replace the mail van with Riley’s trigger (visitors).
So the way I would approach this kind of training is to have visitors come over. As for a focus and then practice this desensitizing and counter-conditioning at a distance when he’s calm and not reacting. Then put him away and let your visitors in to sit like you normally do and then let Riley out to greet them. The idea is that you want to interrupt the behavior and not let it happen. So work at a distance first. If he reacts, then increase the distance to a place where he’s calm.
It might take considerable time to help Riley un-learn this behavior, but it is possible with persistence and patience. I highly recommend getting into the clicker method for this kind of training. It’s a great basis to teach a dog anything. Here’s an article to get you started, if you haven’t already tried it or if you just need a refresher.
And if you want to dive deep into clicker training and see what is possible with it, check out this training program I recommend. I used it with my rescues Charley and Lexi who both ad a lot of problems especially around other dogs and people and I still use it today. The program taps into the natural intelligence of dogs and teaches them how to behave in a calm manner by using games to learn. You can read my full review of the program here.
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions. 🙂
I have a German Shepherd with Border Collie an she is almost 5 moths old an very energetic what is the best way to train her. it also seems like no matter how much we play or walk her she never seems to calm down.
Thanks for your question.
I know exactly how you feel! My Lexi is a German Shepherd and Border Collie cross – you can meet her here. They are high energy dogs with a drive that seems never-ending.
Here are a few things I do and have done to help Lexi get the stimulation she needs…
First, teach your girl puzzle games and scent work. I have found that these kinds of games give her what she needs to tire out and become calm. Puzzle games can be bought or made with things around your house like plastic cups and containers. Check out this article and watch the video to see how I teach my dogs how to play puzzle games.
Things like snuffle mats are also a great way to stimulate them and you can pick one up off Amazon. Or check out this article and scroll down to the Snuffle Mat to see a video of how to make your own Snuffle Mat at home. Dogs love these mats and burn a lot of energy working to ferret the treats out of all the nooks and crannies.
There are also a bunch of other games you can play with your high-drive dog to burn excess energy. I have used an online training program to teach my dogs these kinds of games and they have been extremely useful. These are Brain Training games and work with your dog’s natural intelligence to burn energy and teach behaviors all at the same time. Things like Nose Targeting, Hide-and-Seek, Leg Weaving, Tidying up toys and also Playing the Piano. These are all things that will burn energy while your training her and also once she’s fluid in the behaviors. I think it’s totally worth checking out, you can read a full review of the program here.
Hope these suggestions help. Let me know if you have any other question. 🙂
My GSD is still a puppy with lots of energy. I am not satisfying her energy level and I’m very frustrated since I never had a GSD so hyper. Any suggestions?
Thanks for your comment and welcome to the world of high drive dogs! It’s super fun but I know it can be tricky too.
You’ll be happy to know that scent work it a great way to help satisfy your pup’s high drive and you can start playing scent games with simple things like a bunch of plastic cups and treats. There are also some great puzzle toys specifically for scent work.
Check out this article and specifically the video on how to teach a dog how to play a puzzle game. I got our puzzle game off Amazon, but you can follow the video with the plastic cups as I mentioned above. Just use the video as a guide to teach your pup how the game works.
Also, I suggest checking out an online dog training program that I highly recommend and also use for my own dogs to keep them stimulated. It’s different to other programs since it uses games as a way to train dogs. This taps into their natural intelligence which is extremely stimulating and helps them to learn faster.
I wrote a full review of the program and also share an in-depth interview with the dog trainer who developed the program. You’ll find plenty of games that will satisfy your pup and help her to learn the kind of behaviors you want her to. I have 2 high drive dogs and they have benefited greatly from this style of training.
Let me know if you have any other questions. 🙂
I have a GSD born 10-04-18 a male
How to train 2 at a time
It’s tough training 2 dogs at the same time. I recommend working with each one individually for better results. Once each dog has learned the new behavior, you can start working on the behaviors in a training session with both. So basically teach new behaviors separately and once they’ve learned then you can working on practicing the behaviors with both of them in training sessions together.
You’ll likely find that once they have learned and mastered impulse control behaviors like wait and leave it, you could teach new behaviors together. But personally I like working with my dogs individually also.
Hope this helps! 🙂