A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Dog Trainers

Some people are just really good at dog training. They get results and seem like naturals. Does this mean that the rest of us mere mortals cannot hope to be as good as they are? Nope.

Ask any one of these “naturals” how they got so good and they’ll probably tell you “with lots of practice.” And whether they are pros with hundreds of clients, agility handlers, or 12 year old kids training their pet in the backyard, they all tend to possess the following seven habits. I could probably turn each one of these into a blog post by themselves, but for now, here’s an overview.

Good trainers…

1. are clear and consistent
Imagine being taught the rules of a new game in a foreign language. Hard enough, but your teacher constantly changes the rules and even changes the meaning of words. This is what your dog faces when you don’t use consistency in your training.
Before you start your training sessions, get an image in your head of how you want the session to go. Think of what voice/hand signals you’ll use and the exact behavior you want the dog to perform. Once you’re actually training, concentrate on delivering your cues clearly. Use the same cues every time.

2. know what their dog wants
Because sometimes liver treats aren’t enough. Whenever you’re training (or even just hanging out), watch your dog and ask yourself “what does my dog want right now?” Maybe she really wants to go sniff that fascinating tree. Maybe she can’t wait to get to the dog park. Turn distractions into rewards. Once she does what you ask, reward her by letting her have the “distraction” for a while. She’ll learn that doing what you want gets her what she wants.

3. make it fun
The top dog sports competitors in the world will tell you: play with your dog! Play with toys – keep a tug toy on hand for a quick game as a break between training drills. And play without toys – challenge Fido to a game of tag or roughhousing. “Play training” builds focus and enthusiasm and is the best way to build a strong relationship between you and your dog. He’ll respect you, and like you, better for it.

4. are patient
Success in dog training is accomplished through short sessions of small steps that are repeated many times. It’s easy to get overeager and try to rush through, pushing the dog into something he is not yet able to do. This will actually make the training process take longer. Remember: short sessions, repeat small steps until you and Fido are proficient, and then move on to the next level.

5. willing to adapt
Sometimes, no matter how patient you are or how many times you repeat a training exercise, your trainee just won’t get it. Your dog isn’t stupid, though. When the canine student doesn’t understand, it’s usually because of something the trainer is or isn’t doing. Try changing your approach. There are, for example, at least half a dozen ways of teaching a dog to lie down. If one method isn’t working, try another. Which brings us to…

6. never stop learning
The world of dog training is always growing. New discoveries about the ways dogs learn are being made all the time. There are at least a dozen methods to teach a dog anything and by the time you finish reading this someone will probably have invented yet another way of teaching “Heel.” Of course, most dog owners don’t need to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. But try to continue your education by reading new books and awesome blogs like 3 Lost Dogs (ahem).

7. can laugh at themselves
Dogs love it when we go crazy. Why? Maybe they just think it’s funny when we embarrass ourselves in public. The best trainers are those willing to make fools of themselves for their dogs’ sakes. Did Fido do a great job at whatever you’re teaching him? Whoop it up! Break out the treats and tell him what a genius puppy he is, preferably in a high pitched voice. I know, easier said than done when the entire park or training class is watching. But if you can swallow your pride for a a little while, Fido will thank you.