Dog and Cat Training

Mixed mongrel dog, short hair, receiving instructions from your trainer and coach at the beach. It is a cross Chihuahua and Miniature Pinscher

It’s back to school for the kids so why not for your dogs and cats too!  You don’t have to send them to school.  Rather, you can do some of the training yourself.  Here are some tips on doing on your own training at home:

Dog Training

Training your dog in certain behaviors can be fun and rewarding.  Here are some tips to keep in mind to get you started.

Keep Training Sessions Short: Dogs have a short attention span.  The ideal training session should be 15 minutes or less.  During that session you can work on one skill or a few different skills.  Try doing 5 to 15 repetitions of one behavior then change to another behavior and do the same thing.  You can do mini sessions throughout the day to keep working on old and new skills.  Try to end the sessions on a good note when your dog does a skill you want.  You want to be sure to stop before either of you get tired or frustrated.

Use Consistent Commands: English is a second language for a dog so they will not automatically understand you.  They can learn the meaning of words like “sit” and “stay” if they are used individually but not if they are in the middle of a complex sentence.  When teaching your dog, decide on one word or phrase that represents the command you want.  If you add their name to the command, but sure to be consistent as to when you say their name (i.e. before or after the command).

Take Baby Steps: Just like people, dogs learn best when new tasks are broken down into small steps.  Start off with an easy first step and gradually increase the difficulty.  For example, when training a dog to stay, ask her to initially stay for 3 second.  Once she accomplishes that increase it to 8 seconds then keep going from there.

Also, work on one part of a skill at a time as some skills are complex.  For example, if you want your dog to sit and stay you need to train her to sit and stay until you release her.  She should stay while you walk away, and she should stay while there are distracting things going on.  Work on just one of these things at a time and master it before moving on to the next skill, which adds a new element.

Practice Everywhere: Dogs don’t automatically apply their knowledge to new situations so it’s helpful to practice their skills wherever you go.  If they learn to sit and stay in your living room you want them to do the same thing at the park so practice it there too.

Use Real Rewards: Find treats that your dog loves and will do anything to get.  You want to make the reward worth working for so things like small pieces of chicken or store bought treats such as Greenies work wonders.  Don’t train after a meal as your dog likely won’t be food motivated since she just ate.

Be Patient: Training takes time but it can be rewarding and fun.

Cat Training

Cats can be trained – despite that many people believe they cannot.  They are very independent creatures.  The first step is to understand your cat and figure out what food motivates him or her.  You have to be very creative and patient – but it is possible.  Training can stimulate your cat’s body and mind, which keeps her healthy.  Tricks you can teach include shake, fetch, sit, stay, and to come when called.

Tasty Treats: Treats that your cat goes crazy for can help motivate training.  This can be anything from pieces of fresh chicken, tuna, or commercial cat treats (such as Temptations or Greenies).  Once you identify the treats that your cat loves, you can use positive reinforcement training to teach the behaviors you want.  A first step is to start with training her to sit where you want.

Start by making sure you have the cat’s attention.  Hold the treat in right in front of the cat’s nose. When the cat begins to sniff the treat, slowly move the treat in an arc from her nose up just over her head between her ears. Be sure to not to raise it straight up as you don’t want the cat to stand on its hind legs rather than sit.  Cats will follow the arc motion with their eyes and nose, and as their chin raises up and back, their butt will go down.

Once the cat’s bottom hits the floor, reward her with the treat.  If her rear doesn’t go down on the first try, give the kitty the treat anyways so as to reinforce the movement.  Keep repeating the process and give a treat each time the rear gets closer to the ground until the kitty sits all the way down.

Use a Clicker:  Using a clicker can make training easier and faster. A pen that makes a clicking sound can also be used.  To use the clicker in training, the instant the cat does the correct behavior, click then give a treat.  The click tells the cat the instant she does the right behavior so she will catch on faster.  The key is to click exactly when the cat does the behavior you want.  Repetition is critical so you will need to practice with your cat.  Training sessions should be kept to a few minutes since cats get bored.

Don’t Use Punishment: Cats do not respond well to punishment.  Rather than learning the behavior you want, the cat will run away.  Also, some cats may just end up hiding.  Punishment can also cause stress which can result in problem behaviors such as peeing outside the litter box and compulsive grooming.  Rewarding the behaviors you want is the best way to train your cat.