How to Train a Small Dog with Positive Reinforcement

Medium
3-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Imagine calling your small dog over for training. He runs over excitedly, watches you eagerly, and sits in anticipation of what comes next. You show him the steps for a new trick and reward him each time that he gets it right. He progresses quickly, and before you know it he has mastered another trick. That makes twenty commands that he knows now. You feel proud. Not only does he know a good number of commands, but he also listens when you take him places. You watch as other dogs pull on their leashes and ignore their owners, and you appreciate all of the hard work that the two of you have put in. You remember the days when your pup was not so well behaved. When he ignored you when you called him, bolted out your front door, and barked incessantly, but all the training you have done has really paid off.

Positive reinforcement is a wonderful way to train a dog. It speeds up the learning process, motivates your dog to learn, strengthens your relationship with your dog, and is fun for both of you. It also improves communication. Rather than just telling your pup what not to do, you are telling him what he should do instead.

Defining Tasks

In addition to being a wonderful way to teach commands, positive reinforcement is also very effective at treating fear-based behaviors and socializing puppies. By pairing the source of your pup's fear with rewards and praise, you can help your dog become comfortable around something that he is afraid of. You can also increase the speed at which Fido learns by utilizing a clicker in your training., making the training both fun and easily understood by your dog.

If you do not wish to utilize a clicker, you can still use 'The Clicker Training Method'. Simply replace the clicker with your voice, telling your dog when he does something correctly, and follow the rest of the steps using your voice in place of the clicker when the step indicates to use a clicker. When you use your voice, choose an easy-to-say word, such as "Yes!", that you can say right when Fido does the correct behavior. If you are using your voice instead of the clicker, spend time pairing your "Yes!" with rewards, like you would do if you were using a clicker. Do this before you begin teaching a command to speed up the training later on.

Getting Started

To get started you will need lots of small, easy-to-eat treats. You can also use your dog's own dog food for this. If you are using 'The Clicker Training Method' or 'The Lure Reward Method' then you will need a resource to teach you how to train specific commands. Wag! Walking's Training Resources page is a great place to find training articles. Another option is to find a local dog training class in your area, that focuses on the tricks, commands, or behaviors that you would like to train. If you are using 'The Clicker Training Method', you will also need a clicker, good timing, and possibly a treat pouch, or small Ziploc bag and pocket, to place your treats into.

If you are using 'The Lure Reward Method' then you will need a treat pouch, or a small Ziploc bag and pocket, to hold your treats. You will also need patience and a positive attitude. If you are using 'The Counter Conditioning Method' then you will need the object, person, or animal that your dog is afraid of, to practice around, and similar objects, animals, or people, to practice around also. You will need the similar ones to help your dog overcome his fear of those types of things in general, opposed to just overcoming his fear of one item or person.

For all of the methods you will need a positive attitude, lots of praise, focus on your dog, a sense of humor, and the willingness to have fun.

The Clicker Training Method

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Step
1
Introduce clicker
To begin, grab your clicker and some of your pup's favorite treats and call him over to you. When he arrives, click the clicker and immediately give him a treat. Do this for ten minutes, then tell your dog "OK" and end the session. Repeat these sessions frequently throughout the week, until your pup begins to get very excited whenever he hears the sound of the clicker, before you have shown him a treat.
Step
2
Choose a command
When your pup loves the sound of the clicker, then choose which behavior or trick you would like to train.
Step
3
Watch
When you have chosen which behavior you are going to train then either lure your dog into doing that behavior or watch your dog, so that you can catch him doing the behavior on his own.
Step
4
Add command
As soon as your pup starts to do the behavior that you are trying to teach, either because you lured him into doing it or because he did it on his own, tell him the command word for that behavior. For example, if you are teaching your pup to 'down' then as soon as he begins to lie down, tell him "Down".
Step
5
Click
Right when your dog does the behavior that you are teaching, click your clicker and then give him a treat. For example, if you are teaching him 'down', as soon as his chest touches the floor, click your clicker, then offer him a treat.
Step
6
Repeat
Continue to lure your pup into the behavior that you are training or catch him doing the behavior on his own. Do this at least thirty times, until he can do the behavior when given the verbal command, without being lured and without being caught in the act of doing it already.
Step
7
Add steps
If you are teaching your pup how to do something that involves multiple steps, then click your clicker when your dog gets closer to doing the right behavior. As you teach him more of the trick, gradually increase how much of the trick he has to do before you click your clicker and give him a treat. Do this until he can complete the entire trick and receive a click and reward at the end.
Step
8
Practice
Practice the command or trick that you have just taught until you pup can do it reliably. Practice in new locations and around different types of distractions.
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The Lure Reward Method

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Step
1
Get set up
To begin, choose which position or behavior you would like to teach. Place small, easy-to-eat treats into a small Ziploc bag or treat pouch, then place the bag into your pocket or hook the treat pouch onto yourself. When you have done that, call your dog over to you.
Step
2
Move treat
Using your treat, lure your dog into the position or into doing the behavior that you are training, while telling him the word for that command at the same time. For example, if you are teaching him how to sit, then touch the treat to his nose, tell him "sit", and slowly move the treat from his nose toward the back of his head, until he sits while looking up at the treat.
Step
3
Reward
Right when Fido does the behavior or moves into the position that you are teaching, praise him and give him a treat.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat luring Fido into the position or into doing the behavior at least twenty-five times. Do this under he begins to do the behavior on his own when you give him the verbal command, show him the treat, or begin to move it, before you have lured him all the way.
Step
5
Phase out the treat lure
When Fido will do the command before you lure him all the way with the treat, then phase out the treat lure. To phase out the treat lure, remove the treat from your hand and lure him into the position or into doing the behavior with your empty hand. Pretend like you are still holding a treat while you do this. When he does the behavior or moves into the position, then reward him with a treat from your other, free hand.
Step
6
Repeat
Repeat luring your pup into the position or into doing the behavior with your empty hand, until he will do the behavior or move into the position every time.
Step
7
Phase out your hand
When your dog will move into the position or do the behavior every time that you lure him with your empty hand then phase out your hand as well. To phase out your hand, give your pup the verbal command, and then wait seven seconds before luring him into the position. Practice this until Fido will do the command consistently when you give him the verbal command, before you have lured him.
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The Counter Conditioning Method

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Step
1
Identify issue
To begin, identify what your dog is afraid of or what he dislikes. Your dog might dislike wearing his harness, or he might be afraid of children or your neighbors' blow up Christmas decoration. It can be almost anything.
Step
2
Approach the source of fear
Once you have identified the source of your pup's fear or dislike, then grab lots of your dog's favorite treats, and call your dog over to the source of his displeasure. Allow your dog to decide how close he is willing to get to the thing that he dislikes. He should be close enough to notice the source of his fear but not so close that he cannot receive rewards and instruction from you due to fear.
Step
3
Reward
Praise and reward your dog every time that he attempts to get closer to the source of his displeasure out of curiosity and not aggression. Also reward him for calm behavior in the presence of the source of his fear, and for paying attention to you while the fearful object is present. If your pup looks at you, is calm, or approaches the object for even a second, count that, and reward him for it. Try to praise him the second that he does the right behavior, so that even if the treat is given a second or two afterward Fido will still understand what it was that he did right.
Step
4
Go slow
Practice rewarding your pup often around the thing that he dislikes. Encourage him to approach the object by sprinkling treats between your pup and the object, and by praising him and going over to the object yourself. Do not force him. Allow him to go at his own pace. If it is a person that he is afraid of, then have the person toss treats toward him while also ignoring him.
Step
5
Keep it calm
Allow your pup to be the one to initiate the interaction with whatever he is afraid of until he is completely comfortable around it. Once he is completely comfortable, then if the source of his fear is a person or another dog, allow that person or dog to gently interact with him also. Watch for any signs of nervousness or stress during the interaction. Make sure that the interaction itself is a fun and rewarding experience for your dog, so that he will learn to like other people and dogs. Also do not let your dog interact with any dogs that you believe will bully, intimidate, or harm your dog. Choose only well socialized, friendly, patient dogs for these interactions.
Step
6
Generalize
Once your dog is confident around the object, person, or dog that he was previously afraid of, practice counter conditioning him to other things that resemble what he used to be a afraid of, so that he will be able to handle those interactions with confidence as well. For example, if you pup was afraid of a person, then when he is comfortable around that particular person, practice around lots of other people as well, especially people who resemble the person that used to frighten him. Reward him for interacting with each new person.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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