When training your dog, no matter what it is you are trying to train, there is one really important factor that determines whether you and your dog succeed or fail. Consistency. If you are being consistent in your training, the methods you are using and what you are asking of your dog, they are much more likely to be able to understand what you are asking and therefore learn much more effectively.
Dog's like humans and other animals, learn through trial and error. If they don't have the answer to what you are asking them to do, they will more likely than not give you some sort of answer in an attempt to find the answer you are looking for. If you are consistent and don't change what you are asking, how you are asking it and what you are expecting, your dog is more likely to find the right answer quicker because the information is clear. If you aren't consistent and change things too soon, your dog is more likely to get confused and not learn what it is you are asking them to do.
When you are teaching your dog something brand new, try the following steps to help you and your dog succeed:
1. Figure out what method you are going to use and stick to it for at least a month
When considering what training method to use there's a few things to consider. Firstly, consider what you are trying to train your dog. If you're teaching a trick like a paw command, you're probably going to use a slightly different method than you would if you are training your dog to stop barking. There are a ton of different methods for the same thing and as long as your dog enjoys the training and is benefiting from it, that's all that matters. Do your research, speak to professionals if you need to and also think about how your dog is taking the training. Is your dog enjoying the training? Are they getting too overstimulated? Are they responding well? Are they picking up what you are asking? It's important to also stick to this for at least a month to give your dog a decent time to respond to the training. Every dog learns at a different pace and it's important to give them a chance to understand the training without sticking on one method for too long that simply isn't working for your dog. If your dog is doing well, stick with it! If your dog's behaviour hasn't changed or has only changed a very small amount, it may be worth trying another method to see if that works better for your dog.
2. Keep the same words and/or hand signals and the same goal
To really help your dog to understand the training it is important to keep the same words, hand signals and goals to help your dog to get to the right answer quickly. Pick a word and stick to it so your dog understands what you are asking and also use the same hand signal if you are using one. It's also important to choose what the goal is before starting training so it's clear what you are wanting your dog to do. For example, if you're teaching a paw command, is your goal for your dog to lift their paw up? For them to give it to you and then put it back? For them to give it to you and stay there until released? Keeping things like this clear helps your dog to really know what you want and how to give you the right answer.
3. Stay calm and try not to get frustrated!
When training your dog something new it's important to remember that they aren't going to simply pick it up after one session. Like humans, dog's learn at different paces dependant on their learning speed, breed and age. Older dogs and puppies may take longer to learn something and may need shorter, more frequent training sessions to really help them to understand. Some breeds like pugs, french bulldogs and bulldogs have been proven to learn at a much slower pace, needing more repetitions to learn a command whereas working breeds like spaniels, shepherds, collies learn much quicker and with much fewer repetitions. There are also exceptions to every breed and it is important to get to know your dog and allow them to learn at their own pace, within reason. It's also important that you don't start shouting at your dog or getting angry with them if they aren't learning, if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a deep breath before you carry on or take a break if you need to and then go back to it when you're calm again.
4. Don't punish your dog for not knowing the answer
When you're at school learning something new, if your teacher always tells you off for not knowing the right answer you are much more likely to not want to try in class in case you get it wrong and get told off. It's the same for dogs, if you always tell them off for doing it wrong, your dog isn't going to want to try anymore in case they get told off again. It is important to help your dog to know what the right answer is and how to get there so that they are more likely to want to try and enjoy learning. If your dog is confused help them out by directing them towards the right answer or adding a small correction to tell them that is the wrong answer. Always make sure you are clear and praise your dog when they do it right!
If you have a dog, or are getting one, training it is as important as feeding it. Things like teaching it to walk nicely on the lead, settle in the house and come back when called are things every dog needs to be taught and it's up to us as dog owners to teach them so that they understand how to cope and thrive in our human world.
Just remember to be consistent and you and your dog will be learning new things in no time!