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Small dogs often have a lot of personality. Despite their tiny stature, they can get into big trouble without some guidance and training. The good news is that training your small dog basic commands only requires a little bit of know-how and some consistency.
The best way to teach your small dog any new behavior is to learn the power of positive reinforcement as a tool to shape behavior. The three simple commands, 'stay', 'come', and 'spin' that we will show you in the guide will get you well on your way to understanding the foundations of dog training.
Once you and your small dog master these behaviors, you will be able to move on to more complex behaviors and tricks in no time. In addition to bringing your small dog under control, spending time training her will also improve your bond. It is an all-around win!
In addition to giving you step-by-step instructions, this guide will give you some pro tips on training in general so that even if you are new to training your dog, you will hit the ground running.
Before starting in on any of the specific behaviors you want to teach, look over this checklist for some general guidelines to make sure you are getting the most out of your training sessions:
Focus on rewarding success and ignoring failure.
When training your small dog basic commands, you will have the fastest results if your training sessions are positive. This keeps your pup engaged and focused. Think of it like your training session is a game that you are trying to let your dog win.
Keep sessions short.
If your canine gets bored, you have already let the session go on too long. The goal is to stop before she is ready to quit so that she will be left wanting more and look forward to her next session.
Have fun training.
If you find yourself getting impatient or frustrated, rest assured your furry friend knows it, and will be anxious as a result.
Our training methods will use food to motivate your dog. Professional dog trainers use food because it is easy to repeat the reward rapidly during training, without distracting from the lesson at hand. Keep in mind that each time you reinforce behavior with a reward, learning is happening.
To choose the right food for the job, consider using some of your dog's regular kibble, supplemented with a few tiny bits of cheese or cold cuts to keep him guessing. A single pea-sized bit is enough for each reward. When you use your dog’s breakfast or dinner rations to train, you don’t have to worry about adding a ton of calories for the training program.
Food is only used to teach new behaviors. Once learned, you can start to diminish the rate of reward gradually. By starting to use praise instead of food after a behavior is right where you want it, you will eventually fade food rewards. Another trick is to start asking for more than one known behavior before rewarding. Food is a training tool, but you don’t have to be stuck with it forever.
Finally, the basic structure of training includes “marking” then “rewarding.” The “mark” is an audible sound that you will use in training sessions the instant you get what you want, whether that is a step towards final behavior or the behavior itself. You will always say the mark the instant you get the behavior, followed immediately by a food reward.
Let’s take a look at how this works when training your small dog basic commands:
The Stay Method
With your small dog on the floor in front of you, say “Staaayyyy” in a drawn-out tone and hold your palm out facing her. Immediately mark and reward as long as she stays.
Say “Okay!” and then toss a treat (or piece of kibble if that is what you are using) a few feet away. This is your release word. It is critical that you always train the release alongside the 'stay' command.
Repeat the above process, adding a few rewards for the 'stay' before giving the release and tossing the treat to encourage her to break the stay. Reward as fast as it takes to get a few in before the release. Ignore failures and just start over if she breaks too soon.
Over the course of a few training sessions, your goal is to extend the duration between the rewards on the 'stay', starting at just a second or two, and extending to up to a minute, rewarding a few times before releasing.
You will also start to add a bit of distance between you and your dog, again gradually and only as she is ready. Start by just shifting your weight, then marking and rewarding when she stays. In a few sessions you will have worked up to being several feet away, being able to walk around her, or even going to sit down, while she stays. Remember to work a release in there every few minutes.
Once your small dog is staying for at least 30 seconds, with you several feet away and walking around, then you can take your training to more challenging environments such as outside or around distractions like other people.
Add a consequence
Eventually, when you are happy with her stay, you can add a consequence for failure to stay. A good example is a 2-3 minute time-out in the crate every time she breaks the 'stay' too early. Once you add a consequence, you need to consistently apply it in order for it to be effective.
The Come Method
The technical term for having your dog come to you when called is “recall.” Recall is a valuable skill for your small dog to have because it will allow you to call him away from danger in a pinch. Think of recall training as something you do in a formal training session, but also something you will practice several times a day so that he never knows when coming to you when called will earn him a reward.
One of the easiest ways to train recall is to have two people work together to alternate calling him then rewarding him when he comes. By gradually adding some distance between the people, and even working towards calling him from different rooms, you can rapidly train your small dog this basic command.
Place a small stash of treats in different rooms of the house so that you can call your canine randomly throughout the day and reward him for promptly coming when called.
Don't call and then punish
Make sure you do not call him to you, then immediately punish him, including taking away a favorite toy. This is a common mistake that those new to training can make, and it will only teach your dog that coming when called could be risky. If you have to take away something they like, then make sure to trade it for something they like even more, like a treat.
You can use a long leash or a long rope to make sure your dog is secure while working on this behavior outdoors. It is important to practice new behaviors like recall in as many environments as you can to make sure it will be there when you need it.
The Spin Method
To teach this fun trick, you will use a technique called “luring” where you start by using a treat as a bribe to get the movement you want, followed by a mark and reward.
Mark then reward
With a treat in your hand, show it to your small dog and then lead her around in a circle with your hand. Mark when she gets to a full circle, then give her the treat.
Repeat the above step 5-10 times, and as soon as you are able, start pretending to hold the treat while doing the same motion. Your goal is to get to marking then rewarding from your treat bag instead of bribing her for the movement.
Abbreviate hand signal
Start to abbreviate your hand signal gradually. Eventually, with enough practice, you want your hand signal to be as simple as a point of the finger in a small circle. Continue to mark and reward success, ignoring failure.
Fade food motivators
Eventually, once you have your hand signal where you want it and you are getting the 'spin' quickly and reliably just about every time, you are ready to start fading the food rewards and practicing this trick randomly through out the day.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021