Training

Pet dogs don't need to be obedience champions, dance to music or speed round an agility course. Of course these activities can be great fun and something to aspire to, but most owners need their dog to sit when asked, walk calmly on a loose lead, come back when called on a walk, and settle down when they stop to natter to their neighbour or have a pint in the pub! And they want their dog to do these things even when there are tempting picnics around, kids running about playing football, or other dogs walking past. 

 

The training we do at Dogs Trust is based on teaching the basic behaviours that dogs and owners need day to day in domestic life. Whether we are working with dogs in our adoption centres and preparing them to go to their forever homes, or teaching owners in Dog School classes, we are focused on doing a thorough job of training the basics!

 

The other important principle of training at Dogs Trust is that we use reward based methods to train all our dogs. Research has shown that using reward based methods are effective, and less likely to be associated with problem behaviours. This approach also means that dogs have better welfare, enjoy their training and form a better bond with owners or carers - so why would we do anything else? 

 

Our approach to training

Our understanding of dog behaviour has changed considerably over the past few decades. Historically, there were misunderstandings about why dogs behave as they do. For example, it was believed for a long time that dogs developed behaviours like aggression in order to achieve high status or ‘dominance’ over their owners. Unfortunately, this led to training methods based on coercion or punishment in order to ‘keep dogs in their place’. With recent research, we know that this type of approach is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. Punishment based training methods cause fear and anxiety in dogs, and are associated with the occurrence of undesired behaviours, including aggression towards other dogs and people.

At Dogs Trust we train dogs using reward based methods, and do not advocate the use of any training equipment which changes behaviour by causing pain or fear in dogs.  As you can see below, there are multiple reasons why reward based training is better!

  • Reward based training enhances the bond between dog and owner
  • It is easier for dogs to learn if we reward them for doing the right behaviours rather than telling them off when they get things wrong
  • Dogs which are trained with rewards enjoy learning - they are a partner in the training sessions and often 'offer' new behaviours to see if they get a reward!
  • Reward based training will not cause pain or injury to dogs
  • Reward based training does not rely on making dogs worried or frightened, so there is less danger of causing problem behaviours
  • Reward based training works to change behaviour!

How do I train my dog?

Teach your dog to know his or her name


If our furry friends will respond to their names it means we can help to keep them safe when life becomes dangerous – a vehicle suddenly driving around a park for example, or a broken bottle. We can also help to keep other people safe – when they’re having a picnic for example and we need our dog to look at us instead of at the pork-pies on offer! Being responsive to their name means our dogs can have greater freedom in life and helps them to develop a meaningful bond with us, as well as helping us dog-owners be socially responsible within our local communities.

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Teaching your dog to walk on a loose lead


Having a dog which walks calmly next to you on a loose lead makes going out for walks a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience! It is also much better for our dogs to learn to walk on a loose lead - pulling on the lead can be uncomfortable and even sometimes cause damage to the throat. When teaching dogs to walk on a loose lead, needs to be built up slowly - starting when your dog is not excited or distracted and building up gradually over time. Read more to find out the stages for training a dog to walk calmly on the lead.

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Teaching your dog to sit


Learning to sit is often the first thing a new puppy learns - so it is really important to get it right! The technique is the same for adult dogs or puppies: encouraging them to sit using a food reward, and giving the reward just as their bottom hits the floor! As the dog learns the behaviour, the food 'lure' is no longer needed and the dog associates the action with the word "Sit". Read more to find out the details of each step in training, and see our super cute puppy model learn to sit for the first time!

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Training classes

Being a responsible pet owner includes making sure that you teach your dog some basic obedience to ensure that you can keep him or her under control in public places. Reward based training also helps to build and strengthen the relationship between you and your dog, and makes being with your dog a more pleasurable experience. There are lots of different sorts of training classes, and lots of instructors with different qualifications or memberships, (but remember - a long list of letters after their name is no guarantee that the instructor is suitably qualified or experienced!) so choosing where to go with your dog can be very confusing. Finding a trainer who is accredited with a professional organisation that has a code of practice, insurance and assessment procedures for membership will help to ensure standards. For example, The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) in the UK accredits trainers who have been assessed to ensure their competence, and who sign up to a code of conduct which includes an undertaking to not use coercive or punitive techniques and equipment.

 It is always a good idea to attend a training class without your dog first, so you can assess the type of training that is being used, see if you feel relaxed with the instructor and assistants, and would be happy to bring your dog into that environment. When you visit, take note of the following points when evaluating the class:

 

  • Observe the behaviour of dogs in the class. If this is the first night of a course some of the dogs may be anxious until they have settled in.  How do the instructors and/or assistants help the anxious dog and their owner? If this is the second or later class the dogs should be relaxed with wagging tails and be interested in their surroundings. Be wary of classes where lots of dogs appear to be cowered, have their tail between their legs, or do not make eye contact with their owner or trainer.
  • Look out for the types of training methods used. You should not consider joining the class if instructors/assistants are recommending techniques which rely on inducing fear or pain, such as prong collars, choke chains, water pistols or ‘rattle cans’, or where they rely on shouting at dogs, or hitting them with hands, feet or the lead. There is no need for such techniques to be used in the training of a dog. Check that dogs are motivated to show the desired behaviours through the use of rewards such as food treats or playing with a toy, and not through fear.
  • Check whether there are an appropriate number of dogs and owners for the situation. For example, the APDT (UK) recommends no more than 8 puppies in a class with an instructor and one assistant, and in Dogs Trust Dog School we have a maximum of 6 dogs in any class. Lots of dogs crowded together in a hall can create problems, and too many dogs makes it difficult for the instructor to clearly see what is happening, and be available to help owners.
  • Observe whether the class is calm and quiet – lots of shouting (by owners) and barking indicates that people and dogs are finding the situation stressful. Except in an emergency, there is no reason for an instructor to be shouting – at dogs or owners.
  • See if the instructor recognises that each dog is an individual and may be motivated by different things (such as food, play or toys), and is likely to progress at different rates. For example, check that the instructor or assistants do not force anxious dogs to participate in activities before they relax and are ready to take part.
  • Are the instructors and assistants friendly and do they welcome you observing their class?  A good instructor will be proud of the service they are offering and will be pleased that you are taking the trouble to find out about classes before enrolling your dog
  • You should also check that the instructor is not giving advice beyond their level of knowledge or qualification. For example, you should be wary of instructors who give advice about serious behavioural disorders, such as aggression, or medical disorders within their training class.
  • Before or after the class, ask some of the other participants about their experiences of the course, and how successful they have found it, as it is difficult to assess how well dogs progress with their learning when attending a single class. If possible, go to the first night of a course and then go back to the same class a few weeks later.

If you have a local Dogs Trust Dog School, then you can be sure that the classes will be run to be best standards and with the most up to date advice. Check out the Dogs School page to find your nearest classes. Dog School classes are designed to be fun and engaging, with content that is based in the latest research and experienced instructors, so you can be sure that both you and your dog have a positive experience and learn lots of new things!  

Find out more about your dog's behaviour

Training is very important to make sure that dogs fit into our lifestyles. But it's also really important to have a good understanding of the behaviour of our dogs. Knowing how dogs learn, understanding what motivates them, and being able to recognise straight away when things are going wrong are important in preventing problem behaviours. Read on to find out more about your dog's behaviour! 

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