Have you ever asked your dog to do something and they don't? Or worse, they do, but you have to ask not one, not two, not even three, but TEN times before they do it? If you're a parent, I'm sure you've been there with your kid/s as well. It is certainly very frustrating to deal with, and sometimes it can feel like your dog will never listen. But I'm here to tell you that it is possible to get your dog to listen to you the first time, every time.
So what's the secret? How DO you get your dog to truly listen to you? Follow the steps below to turn you aloof pup into an eager-to-please pup:
Step 1 - Set Your Dog Up For Success
Setting your dog up for success is the most important of these 6 steps; without it, training your dog to do anything will lead to frustration on your part, and avoidance from your dog. Simply put, setting your dog up for success means only asking them to listen to you when you are 99% confident they will listen (there is always that 1% chance that something crazy will happen and even the best dogs won't listen). This may sound like an impossible task, but it isn't quite as complicated as it sounds. All this means is you need to practice commands with your dog in easy environments before moving to harder environments. If your dog is having a hard time listening to you, it is likely the environment around you is too difficult.
Here's an example: You've practiced sit with your dog inside your home and he has mastered it, sitting perfectly every time you ask. You decide to take your dog to a busy park filled with people, dogs, and small animals. You ask your dog to sit and your dog ignores you and occupies himself looking around the park. You've jumped to too difficult of an environment much too quickly and have not set your dog up for success.
Step 2 - Make Listening Worth It
Another important part of getting your dog to listen is making listening to you more rewarding than ignoring you. Often times, people don't celebrate their dog's successes enough, and over-correct their dog's mistakes, leading to a dog who is more likely to ignore you when push comes to shove. Make listening to you worth it by rewarding your dog with high-value treats (hot dog, chicken, cheese etc.) when he does something the first time you ask.
Here are two examples, one of what not to do, and one on what to do when your dog listens.
Example 1: You are walking your dog and you come upon a stray cat. As you walk by the cat, your dog begins by first ignoring it. You mumble "good job" and keep walking. This does not properly convey to your dog that he made the right choice, so he decides to go ahead and try to chase the cat instead because chasing the cat is more rewarding than a mumbled "good job".
Example 2: You are walking your dog and you come upon a stray cat. As you walk by the cat, your dog begins by first ignoring it. You look at your dog, praise him with a "Yes! Very good boy!" and reward with a handful of yummy treats. Your dog continues to ignore the cat because you've made it very clear that ignoring the cat is the right choice.
Step 3 - Don't Repeat Yourself
The biggest mistake I see dog owners make is constantly repeating commands when their dog does not listen and then still praise their dog when they finally do it. Repeating the command over and over tells the dog two things: 1) this word is meaningless, and 2) I can respond anytime and I'll still get some kind of reward. If you want your dog to listen to the command the first time, only give the command once.
Step 4 - Don't Bribe Your Dog
The second biggest mistake I see dog owners make is bribing their dogs with treats. This creates a dog who is dependent on the reward in order to perform, when in reality it should be the other way around; your dog should have to perform in order to even see or hear the reward. They should expect a reward for a job well done, but should not depend on it to perform a command.
This can be tricky when it comes to advancing your dog's training; if you need help, reach out to a local trainer or contact Expedition Paws about our virtual training option!
Step 5 - Make Things Fun
We've all been in a situation where someone wants us to do something that just doesn't sound fun--but what's considered "fun" is quite subjective; it depends on the person, and it also depends on how the activity is presented. If something is presented in a way that sounds fun, you are much more likely to go along with it. Dogs see things the same way. If you aren't excited about what you're asking them to do, or worse, you're angry when you ask them to do something, then they are much less likely to listen to what you are saying. Now this isn't a forever condition, you don't have to be excited about everything all the time, but you DO have to make this enthusiastic effort while you are in the process of teaching your dog that listening to you is the right choice.
Step 6 - Have Consequences
There is a common misconnection among dog owners that punishment or consequences means you have to be cruel to your dog. This is likely because when we "punish" naughty children, it is with a spanking, or some other unpleasant sort of punishment. While punishments by nature are not pleasant, punishing your dog does not mean smacking your dog around and screaming at him. A punishment is simply a negative consequence that comes as a result of your dog making the wrong choice. This could be a verbal correction, it could be not receiving a food reward, it could be losing the freedom of roaming the house unsupervised. It is important that your dog learns that choices have consequences, whether they make the right or wrong choice.
If you are struggling to apply any of these steps in your training routine, reach out to us to find out about our virtual training options! Happy Training!