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You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks: Guidelines For Easy Training

October 24, 2017


Imagine the following scenario. You know that you have a task to accomplish, but you are completely unaware of the steps you need to follow, or the actions you need to take, to do so.

The body language and vocal tone of your instructor makes it crystal clear that this task is quite important and that you are not yet doing what you should be doing. The problem? Your instructor is speaking in a language that you cannot decipher.

Most of us would find this situation terribly frustrating. Even if you were highly motivated to complete the task, your chance of success would be quite low. This is exactly how your dog feels when you suddenly command him or her to “Sit!” or “Stop!” without properly teaching these skills.


If want to own a well-behaved dog, you must first understand how your dog learns, and then adjust your training techniques to best fit that learning style. Following are a few key guidelines to follow for easy training and clear communication.

Reward Good Behavior

Reward-based training is a highly effective form of training that encourages good behavior with treats, toys, praise, or attention. Over time, your dog learns that when he acts in particular manner he will receive a reward. This encourages your dog to repeat these good behaviors that lead to predictable outcomes.

Comparatively, you can remove rewards to discourage undesirable behaviors. As an example, imagine that you are attempting to teach your dog to stop jumping up to greet you. Often dogs jump up to catch their owner’s attention. By removing the reward of your attention by ignoring your dog when he jumps up and only giving him attention once he sits down calmly, you can discourage this undesirable behavior.

By focusing your training around rewards, you can avoid less-effective harsh forms of punishment (like yelling or jerking your dog’s leash) that may frighten your dog.


Consistency Is Key

Much like people, dogs learn by observing the consequences that result from their behaviors. Dogs are encouraged to behave in a manner that leads to a reward (like a tasty treat), and avoid behaviors that lead to unpleasant consequences (like the removal of a favorite toy).

When teaching your dog which behaviors are rewarded, and which behaviors to avoid, consistency is critical. For example, if you reward your dog when he jumps up to greet you in some situations, but scold him in other situations, your dog is almost guaranteed to feel confused.

Make sure that you, and anyone else who may interact with your dog, responds in a highly predictable way to any behaviors that you are looking to train.

Make Sure Consequences Are Immediate

For proper training, immediacy is just as important as consistency. Dogs will only connect a particular behavior to a subsequent reward or consequence when one occurs immediately after the other. For example, imagine that you return home to find that your dog chewed through one of your favorite pairs of shoes a few hours ago.


If you scold him for this behavior long after the act, your dog will not be able to connect his behavior to the consequence. He has long forgotten about your shoes and will think that you are simply yelling at him for some unknown reason.

Present or remove rewards immediately after the behaviors you are attempting to train to help your dog clearly connect cause and effect.

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