You don’t have to go far to have places to train your dog. We spend the majority of our time at home so it makes sense to start there. There’s also far more to training your dog than the normal sit and down.
More useful things to teach our dog are ways to behave in different everyday scenarios. Dog trainers often refer to these as life skills. Dogs with decent life skills are a joy to live with. They know what to do and when, often without having to be asked, or nagged.
Teaching your dog these skills helps strengthen your relationship and understanding of each other. It also helps your dog understand exactly what behaviour is going to pay off and when so he’s much more likely to do it.
Here are my top tips for what to train where, close to home.
1. In Your Lounge
Teach a settle for when you’re chilling
The room where you like to relax is the perfect place to teach your dog to settle on his bed. Binge watching Netflix can become a reality again.
- Pop his bed close enough to you that you can drop treats to the bed with minimal movement.
- Put a stash of treats close to hand and sit down.
- Watch TV. Or work on your laptop. Read a book. Or magazine.
- Wait for the moment that your dog stops his Jedi mind-tricks and drops his head or looks down at the bed.
- Nonchalantly drop a treat between his paws. Preferably without looking at him.
- Carry on with your studious attention to Netflix.
- When you are ready to have a snuggle or to do something else. Stand up and invite your dog to get up with you and go do something fun together.
Teach your dog that noises are nothing to worry about.
Does your dog get nervous at the sound of thunder, or start to howl when a siren passes? Use your sound system to practice desensitisation with a recording of the triggering sound. Whether your dog is scared of noises or not the method should start out the same.
- Turn the volume right down to zero and cue up the recording.
- Press play and move the volume up a tiny amount. Be aware that some recordings made specifically for dogs can have silence for several seconds at the start. Don’t be tempted to crank up the volume.
- Watch your dog. You might not be able to hear the recording, but your dog may. Watch for an ear twitch or for him to look up at the speaker.
If there is no reaction at all, turn the volume up a single notch. Watch your dog again.
- You are looking for a noise level where your dog may orientate to the sound but then carries on with what he was doing.
- When you find that magic volume leave the recording playing while you both carry on with your day.
- Play it for different lengths of time each day. No need to do it for hours, a few minutes up to about 15mins will be plenty.
- Increase the volume very gradually, just a notch at a time and watch your dog’s reaction careful. Any signs that he cannot notice the noise and carry one – turn the volume down.
2. In Your Kitchen
Teach your dog to find your side.
The first step to loose lead walking is your dog being able to get into the right position. If you have a run of cupboards that you can walk beside for a few steps, this is all you need for a good start. The cupboards can act like a wall that makes it easier to teach your dog how he should position himself for successful heeling.
- Stand with enough space for your dog between you and your cupboards.
- With the hand closes to your cupboard, show your dog a treat and throw it behind you for your dog to get.
- Get another treat and hold it right by your leg closest to the cupboard while your dog goes and gets the treat you threw.
- Your dog should eat the treat and then come back towards you, probably looking for another.
- Click or mark as your dog reaches your hand with the treat in by your side and give him the treat.
- Repeat steps 2-5
- After about 5 repetitions test your dog’s understanding by throwing the treat for him but not holding a 2nd treat in your hand.
- Click as he reaches your side, and then grab a treat and give it to him in the same position.
- Repeat several times.
- When you are confident your dog understands where you’d like him to be. Move one step away from the cupboards and repeat.
- Keep increasing the distance from your cupboards.
- When you are as far away as you can get, start to throw the first treat at slight angles rather than directly behind you. This will test your dog a little to see if he can straighten up and come into the right place.
Teach your dog to keep out of the way
When you need to walk around your kitchen to cook or deal with the dishwasher, the last thing you want is a dog underfoot. Place a bed or mat in your kitchen and teach your dog to settle there while you cook, eat, load and unload the dishwasher.
- The easiest way I’ve found to teach this is to drop a piece of food on the bed while I go about my chores. Don’t pay much attention to where your dog is when you throw the food, it doesn’t matter for this stage. Your dog will soon catch on that it makes the most sense to stay on the bed since that is where all the food is going.
- Then you can start paying him for staying there while you move around.
- Unloading the dishwasher is a good way to start this as the clean dishes aren’t so appealing. Every time you pick up a dish, toss a treat to your dog’s bed. Put the dish away, toss a treat. Pick up another dish, toss a treat. Put it away, toss a treat. You get the idea.
- As your dog starts to stay put, only toss the treat when you’ve put the item away.
- When he’s successful when you empty a whole load, start to toss a treat after every 2nd item put away. Then every 3rd until you can unload a whole dishwasher without him getting off his bed.
- Then you can introduce staying on his bed while you load the dishwasher, while you cook or even while you eat your dinner. Just remember to pay him for a job well done.
3. In Your Back Garden
No matter the size of garden there’s always something we can use it for.
If it’s large enough you can use it for playing and teaching your dog the start of a play retrieve. Even in a small garden you can hide treats and toys and get your dog to find them. Scatter food in grass for breakfast.
You can place down safe items to walk over with different textures. Notice which ones your dog avoids if he can and devise ways to build his confidence with touching them.
Teaching your dog to put two paws up on objects
A nice way to encourage investigation is to teach your dog to put two paws up. Just this simple behaviour offered on lots of different objects can lead to a more confident dog.
Tip: Use a low, stable object that won’t slip. A hardback book with foam or rubber mat underneath is perfect.
- Have a handful of treats in one hand and your clicker in the other.
- With your dog in front of you, place your object down between you and your dog.
- Click the moment your dog looks at the object and give your dog a treat.
- It’s helpful to either toss the treat on the floor so your dog turns away from the object. Or you can hand it to him in a way that means he turns away or raises his head away from the object.
- Be ready to click as soon as your dog eats the treat and looks towards the object again.
- Click and treat as before.
- Now click when your dog moves towards the object, or lifts his paw.
- Repeat for a couple of clicks.
- Now click for your dog putting one paw on the object.
- Then both front paws on the object.
- If your dog is putting paws on the object, use the treat to reset him after you’ve clicked. Toss the treat a small distance away so your dog has to get off to go and get it. That way he’ll be in a position to offer the paws on behaviour as soon as he has eaten his treat.
4. In Your Front Garden
If you have space at the front before the street you can use this for all sorts of training. Like getting used to traffic or people walking past. If it’s big enough it can be a good transition from indoors to outside for loose lead walking.
Teach your dog to reorient to you after going out the front door.
Teaching your dog to reorient to you as you pass through the front door is always a useful behaviour. It helps to avoid having them rush straight out onto the street.
- With your dog on lead, open the front door and walk through.
- As your dog walks through the door, click or mark him in some way and give him a treat from your hand so that he is facing you.
- Repeat several times.
- Then walk through the door with your dog and wait for him to check back at you. He is likely to do this because you’ve set up a pattern in the last step. Click or mark him for turning back toward you and give him a treat.
- Do this each time you walk out the front door together before you go out on your walk.
- You can do the same thing with front gates, or any threshold where it would be useful to have your dog check in with you before continuing.
5. On Your Walks
You can of course practise your loose lead walking on a walk. Or any of the behaviours listed above.
Teach your dog an auto check-in on walks
The behaviour I prioritise for teaching on walks is an auto check-in. This is a great way to reduce how much you need to use your recall because your dog will be coming back to you on his own.
- You can do this on or off lead. Whenever your dog glances back at you, click or mark him and follow up with a treat party.
- A treat party is where you give several treats (at least 5) one after the other while telling your dog how wonderful he is.
- On each walk count how many times your dog glances back at you. It should increase on each walk.
- Once your dog is glancing back at you often, wait to click until he fully turns to look at you. Still have a treat party for each click.
- If your dog is off lead, wait until he looks at you and then steps towards you before clicking and having a treat party.
- Gradually hold out until your dog comes back to you of his own accord before clicking and having a treat party.
- As time goes on you can start to drop the treat party and just mark your dog for checking in and give a treat or a fuss or throw a ball and even now and then give him a treat party.
- I always pay for a check-in in some way for my dog’s entire life.
If you’d like to know more ways to teach everyday skills to your dog that will help them become a joy to live with then I bet you’ll love our Behave! Life skills course.
Right now we’re running a waiting list for both in-person classes (for when we come out of lockdown) and live online classes. Sign up and tell us your preference and we’ll be in touch when we open registration.