Dog Training Tips for Beginners

Training is one of the most fundamental aspects of dog ownership. Whether it’s teaching your dog critical behaviors and life skills or how to perform awesome tricks, there are so many ways to approach this process with your pup. I wanted to share a couple of tips and tricks that have been key in our training journey with Willow. I hope you find them useful in your everyday approach to training with your pup!

Disclaimer: I am not a professional dog trainer, so these are just some tips that have worked well for us personally. Please make sure to consult a professional trainer with specific concerns and training needs!

Find out what motivates your dog 

Every dog is different, and what may be a huge motivator to one dog might fall flat for another. It’s important to find out what your dog is willing to work for and use that to your advantage. When we are at home, pretty much any treat or a tug session is enough to get Willow to work for me. Outside however, where there are many more distractions, I know I need to have a high value treat (like cheese or cooked chicken) or Willow’s frisbee in order to get her to focus. Once you find what rewards your dog values most, you can capitalize on that to make the most of your training sessions!

Always be prepared

As it goes for every adventure with your dog, being prepared is a big part of setting yourself up for success in training. For us, training never stops, so I always make sure to bring the tools and rewards I need with me every time I leave the house. This ensures that you can turn any outing into a training session and gives you peace of mind in case something unexpected happens while you’re out and about.

An overhead shot of training tools spread out on the floor
Some of my favorite training gear, including our e-collar, SloppyChopsCo flat collar, training tab and leash, Earthborn EarthBites, Muttruck sidekick, cheese sticks, clicker, disc and a notebook to keep track of training goals

Consistency is key

A common misconception with dog training is that it’s a huge time suck. As a new mom with a 9-5 job, a side hustle and hobbies outside of my dogs, I could easily make excuses about being too busy to make time for training. But in my experience, a couple of 10-15-minute sessions sprinkled throughout the day can do as much to stimulate Willow as an hour off-leash run would. What matters more is being consistent in how often you train, how you ask for behaviors and how you reward. So, if you can’t put hours into training every day, don’t sweat it – a little bit each day adds up to big results over time.

Prioritize the big stuff but don’t forget to have fun

I like to work on different training goals simultaneously to keep things fun and interesting. Personally, I’m always working on a mix of important behaviors and fun tricks. Things like recall, walking and running in heel, and being able to settle in public are all behaviors we’ve prioritized in Willow’s training. That said, we also spend time working on fun tricks that make for cute photos! In addition to having a solid stay, there are some fun tricks that make for a truly Instagrammable moment. A couple of my favorites are shake, high five, hold and head down (a work in progress for us!) Just because they aren’t life skills doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time shaping some fun skills too!

A dog holding a dowel rod in her mouth
Willow recently learned hold and I was finally able to get a photo of her doing the trick!

Working with a professional is always a good idea!

I always recommend that people work with a professional dog trainer – even when there isn’t an “issue” you are trying to improve upon. There are so many different trainers out there with a wealth of education and hands on experience, which means there’s someone out there who will be a great fit for you and your pup. Over the years we have invested a lot of time and resources into training via group classes, 1:1 e-collar sessions, dog sports and most recently virtual training, all of which have and continue to shape Willow into the amazing dog she is today! 

Always end on a positive note

We all have those days where it seems like everything is going wrong, or we are on a different wavelength from our dogs. Occasionally we will have a frustrating session – often with a new trick or a challenging behavior – that makes me feel like I failed Willow. In those instances, it’s important to remember to take a deep breath and give yourself some grace. If we have a challenging session, I always like to end on a high note with a trick Willow knows well so that we both feel successful and don’t dwell on the negatives. Tomorrow is a new day with plenty of opportunity to try again!