2019-01-11 / Front Page / Pets

National Train Your Dog Month

By Phyllis Beasley, CPDT-KA

The holidays are over. Was it relaxing for you or did your dog drive you crazy? Is it time to make a New Year’s resolution that you will help your dog learn some better manners?

Good news…it’s never too late to train your dog. Even if your dog is older, clear, consistent, positive training can help you and your dog enjoy your relationship even more.

In 2010 the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) began the National Train Your Dog Month campaign to bring awareness to the importance of socialization and training and to inform the public training a dog can be fun.

It’s easy to get started. Sign up for a group training class or private lessons with a force free trainer so both you and your dog can have fun training.

But this is only the beginning. For your dog to be reliably trained, you must practice in lots of different environments. Dogs learn differently than people, they don’t generalize what you teach them. This means if your dog reliably sits in your den, he may not transfer that knowledge to a new environment with distractions. They may also sit reliably when you are practicing in the kitchen, but if you have guests over and there is excitement and noise, your dog may be too distracted to perform the cue.


Dry dog cookies are also generally a low value treat, unless you are training in a very low distraction area. Dry dog cookies are also generally a low value treat, unless you are training in a very low distraction area. My former boss and owner of the former business Pawsitive Results training, Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, used to explain this training issue by saying if you sit your child down in the kitchen and tell them to do their math homework, they probably will. But if you take the same child, sit them down in Disney World and tell them to do their math homework, it is probably not going to happen.

Don’t get frustrated, or as many trainers say, “Train, don’t complain.”


When you train, make a list of rewards that your dog likes and rank them. For the vast majority of dogs, petting is not a motivating reward, as you can tell by this dog’s expression. When you train, make a list of rewards that your dog likes and rank them. For the vast majority of dogs, petting is not a motivating reward, as you can tell by this dog’s expression. Gradually introduce distractions at home for example, by training your dog as your family moves around and talks. Or drop keys or make other noises as distractions. When the behavior is solid at home despite distractions, then begin training in the next least distracting environment such as your deck, backyard, or driveway.

When you begin training in a more distracting environment, you may need to lower your criteria and retrain. For example, if your dog can stay in a sit for 30 seconds inside the house with distractions, you may need to practice stays for 10 seconds and then gradually work up to a longer period of time. Trainers have a rule—if your dog makes a mistake two times in a row, go back and practice at the level where they were last successful. This will prevent frustration on your and your dog’s part.


The first step to achieve a well-trained dog is to take private or class lessons for basic obedience. This is Peaches’ graduation from Basic Manners. Peaches is up for adoption at the Animal Protection League. The first step to achieve a well-trained dog is to take private or class lessons for basic obedience. This is Peaches’ graduation from Basic Manners. Peaches is up for adoption at the Animal Protection League. Work training into your everyday life. Training sessions should be short, only three to five minutes for young dogs. Older dogs have longer attention spans and can easily handle positive, successful training sessions of 15 minutes or more.

Like exercise for people, if you work training sessions into your everyday life, you are more likely to stick with it. APDT has lots of great ideas on how to do that. For example, to get a reliable sit, have your dog sit to get his dinner, sit to go outside, sit to have a toy thrown for him, and sit to be petted. You don’t have to reward your dog with a treat, getting what he wants is his reward. And the bonus is your dog will soon automatically sit to ask for what he wants, a polite sit will become his default behavior.


The author’s adolescent German Shepherd Dog Elo is practicing stays to wait for his beloved tennis ball to be thrown. This is hard for him! The author’s adolescent German Shepherd Dog Elo is practicing stays to wait for his beloved tennis ball to be thrown. This is hard for him! Practice asking your dog for a down stay by the table while you eat dinner. (Provide him with a chewy or stuffed Kong™ toy to enjoy while you eat.) Practice sit stays while you unload the dishwasher or put up groceries. Play a hide and seek game inside or in the yard to practice coming when called. Set up a Leave It cue practice in the kitchen where you need it. Stash super yummy dog treats behind a canister on your kitchen counter. When your dog is in the kitchen with you, begin cutting up a hard vegetable such as a carrot or potato. “Accidentally” drop a piece of carrot and say Leave It as you do. If your dog goes for the piece of carrot, step on it to cover it. As soon as your dog leaves it alone, reward him with the yummy dog treat you have hidden.


Toys can sometimes be the best reward. Toys can sometimes be the best reward. Here’s another hint for successful dog training: make a list of all the things your dog really loves and vary your rewards. Rank the rewards in a hierarchy. For the more difficult or important exercises such as coming when called or when training in more distracting environments, reward with the higher value items and vary them.

But most of all, make sure you and your dog have fun training. Training should improve your relationship, not damage it.

Visit the APDT National Train Your Dog Month website, www.trainyourdogmonth.com, for more training tips, videos and webinars.

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