A Simple Six-Step Dog Training Method

Training a new behavior follows a simple six-step method. Depending on the dog and other circumstances, a good trainer will vary his training method when he decides that a particular training challenge needs either a little more or less. When you have used the method enough to know it well, you can add your own personal touch as needed.

The following are six steps for teaching your dog a new behavior

1. Get the behavior.
2. Mark the behavior.
3. Reward the behavior.
4. Repeat the behavior until it happens easily at least 90% of the time.
5. Add the verbal cue as your dog does the behavior to associate the word with the appropriate response.
6. Use the verbal cue to elicit the behavior.

You get the behavior by capturing, shaping, or luring it. You mark the behavior with the click., or some other reward marker that your dog has already learned means that the reward is coming. Reward the behavior by following the click with his favorite treat or, in some cases, with a favorite toy or other desirable reward, such as swimming or going outside.

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Repeat the behavior until your pet is offering it easily before you add the verbal cue, so that he will associate the word with the correct behavior response. For instance, by saying “Sit” as he does it, you are telling him that the name of the behavior he is doing is Sit. If you ask him to do it before he’s offering the behavior easily, you risk teaching him that the word sit means “stand there and look at me,” or worse, “sniff the ground and pull on the leash.”

After your dog has heard the word at least a half-dozen times during the behavior, depending on how quickly he seems to learn, then you can say the word first to elicit the behavior. Be sure that his attention is focused on you so that he actually hears the word, and keep your body position the same as it was when you were getting the behavior before. If you had been doing the “Sit” while you were standing and you suddenly start asking for it while you are sitting, he won’t understand that it’s the same thing.

Give him a few seconds to respond. When he sits, click! and reward. If he doesn’t sit, use the minimum amount of assistance necessary (through body language or a lure, not through physical assistance) to get the behavior, and repeat the exercise. If you find that he will only respond if you help him, start to minimize the amount of help you give until he is sitting for the verbal cue without any help from you.