Providing proper training for your canine companion is a big part of your role as a responsible dog parent. These tools will help you get the job done right.

September 09, 2020
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Clicker / Courtesy of Amazon

Positive reinforcement training is the most effective way to teach new behaviors and build a lasting bond with your animal. It involves rewarding desired behaviors with treats and can help you curb bad habits like jumping up on people as well as teaching basic cues like "Sit," "Stay," and "Come." Once you’re ready to start your training journey, you’ll need a few tools. Here are the ones trainers and dog owners swear by:

Clicker / Courtesy of Amazon

A clicker is a small, rectangular box that makes a “click” sound when you press it with your thumb. You use it to mark when your dog does something correctly. After you click, give your dog a treat. The click sound is precise and more powerful than using your voice because it’s a unique sound your dog will only hear during training. It means one thing—he did something right and a treat is coming.

To start training with this tool, click it once, then immediately give your dog a treat. As long as your dog does not seem startled by the clicker sound, focus on marking a simple behavior (such as your dog turning and looking at you) and follow it with a treat.

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Targets are handy tools you can use to train a variety of behaviors, including tricks. The goal is to teach your dog to touch his nose or his paw to the target. You can use a training target like the ones shown here, a drink coaster, or even a sticky note.

To teach a nose target, hold the item close to your dog’s nose. She will likely reach out to investigate. When she touches it with her nose, click and treat. Repeat until your dog consistently touches the target. Then, as she reaches to touch it, start moving it a little away from her so she has to follow the target. Let her touch it, then click and treat. Build up the number of steps she needs to move before reaching the target.

Once your dog understands the target concept, you can use it to build behaviors. For example, put a target in her crate to teach her to go into her crate.

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It’s awkward while training to fumble with a bag of treats or make sure you have enough food rewards stuffed in your pockets. Clip a training bag to your waistband for easy access to treats.

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You can use just about any type of treat for a reward when training. Just make sure it’s something your dog really loves so she’s incentivized to perform the task at hand. And make sure it smells good so she knows there’s something yummy coming.

You don’t need anything more than a tiny, pea-size morsel you can hide in your hand. Soft treats work best because they’re easily gobbled up and you can move on to practicing the next cue quickly.

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If you're practicing cues like “come” with your pup, you need a safe way to extend the distance between you for practice. That’s where a long lead line comes in. Made from wire cable or cloth (like a standard leash), lead lines can give your dog the freedom to run without being totally untethered. Paired with a stake or wrapped around a pole or tree, a lead allows your dog to roam a bit. If you have a big dog, make sure you look for a lead that’s rated for her weight and can handle the resistance she can put on the line.

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Portions of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2019.