It’s National Train Your Dog Month! Are you ready for training time?

Maybe you have a New Year’s woofolution to train your dog, or maybe you just want to start good habits and strengthen your bond with your pup. Whatever the reason you’re interested in training, there’s no better time to start than now.

January is National Train Your Dog month (and, yes, there is a month for everything!), and in 2010, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers began this campaign to make pet owners aware of the importance of training and that it can be a fun experience. Even if you have an older dog, the good news is that it’s never too late to train your dog!

When you have no experience, it can be daunting to think about training your pup. We get it. Not unlike kids, dogs need to be taught good behavior. Manners and listening aren’t inherent behaviors, and we’re not going to lie, it takes effort, but the results are so worth it. If you think about training your pup as an investment (and it really is), the time and energy you put into the process correlates to the outcomes. Makes sense, right?

Dogs aren’t particularly complicated in that they typically want food, access to someone or something and attention. “Dogs do what works for them,” said Dumb Friends League Behavior Manager Lisa Mullinax. When training, we want to use the things the dog wants in that moment to reward the behaviors we want. And being aware of what reinforces unwanted behavior is helpful, too. If a dog gets attention (even if it’s negative) for jumping on visitors, he will quickly figure out that he can get attention by jumping.

You also want to set your pup up for success by managing their environment just like you would with a toddler. By putting your jumping dog behind a baby gate when guests enter, he can’t jump on them, which allows you to control when he gets attention, such as when he keeps all four paws on the floor.

Rewarding good behavior with food is the fastest approach. Use high-value treats, such as meat or cheese-based rewards. The less processed, the better—and, hey, isn’t that true for us, as well? Also, treats are about quantity and not volume, so tiny nibbles or bites work just fine. For the jumping dog, you can give treats for sitting behind the baby gate while visitors approach. Ultimately, getting to greet guests will be the final reward, but treats will move things along much faster!

The best way to learn how to train your dog is through a positive reinforcement class. Check out the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website and learn how to choose a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant and find a trainer.

If you’re wondering what not to do during the training process, we have some tips on that front, too.

  • Don’t punish your dog. It doesn’t teach your dog what you want them to do, and it can cause frustration or fear. Instead, teach your pup to do something else.
  • Avoid aversive tools that cause discomfort or pain as these can create the negative associations that lead to fearful or aggressive behaviors.
  • If your dog is exhibiting fear or aggression, they need more help than basic training. Call the League’s behavior helpline at 1.877.738.0217. The League’s behavior specialists are ready to help, and they can always point you in the right direction and provide the resources you need.

Most dogs love learning, and we humans appreciate a well-behaved pup. Am I right? When done correctly, and with love and patience, the training experience will strengthen your relationship with your pup, and that’s a win/win!