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13 Tips From the Top Dog Trainers

Whether you’re hoping to enroll your pet in a sporting event or are just trying to teach your new puppy basic house rules, a well-executed training routine is key to meeting your goals. We talked to some of the best trainers for dog sports and got their top tips on training your puppy or dog.

1. ​I train with food and toys, a clicker, and tons and tons of praise.

2. We start training the minute I get them home—teaching them how to learn, to problem-solve, and you’re teaching them how to have a relationship with you.

3. I’ll do 5 or 10 minutes, two or three times a day. As he gets older, increase the training time depending on how quickly he’s maturing and learning to concentrate. What’s important, though, is to quit before the puppy does. I want it to be fun—lots of laughing, squealing, jumping—so he wants to do it the next time.

4. I train for quality: If we’re working on the broad jump and he does three brilliant broad jumps in a row, we’re done.

—Petra Ford, handler whose Labrador Retriever, Tyler, won two consecutive AKC National Obedience Invitationals

5. Keep it short, keep it upbeat, and try to always be consistent. Often novice handlers will try one method for a few weeks, don’t like it, then try another. That’s where novices run into trouble.

6. It takes a lot of togetherness off the course to get your dog to perform well on the course. It’s all about teamwork. The better you and your dog know each other, the better you’ll perform.

—Erin Schaefer, an agility trainer and international gold-medal handler

7. Especially with big breeds, start training when they are puppies and you can still control them. If you wait till they’re full grown, you’ve got a mammoth problem on your hands.

8. The first two or three weeks, the dog is learning a great deal. Then, all of a sudden, you hit a wall. It’s like dieting: You’re not going to lose weight every week after those first few weeks. You have to keep working toward your next goal.

9. Patience is the number-one virtue. You’ll do damage, serious damage, to your training program if you lose your temper.

10. Training doesn’t end when you leave class—it’s just beginning. In class, we’re teaching you to teach your dog. Take what you learn in class and apply it at home. You can’t train a dog in one hour a week.

—Joanne Johnson, AKC World Cup obedience-team competitor

11. It wasn’t until Chartay was 2 years old that her performance instinct kicked in. Dogs are like human beings. You have some children who mature faster than others. Suddenly at 21 months, Chartay turned the corner. From then on she won just about everything I put her in, no matter what event it was. So stick with it.

12. A big reason for my dogs’ consistency is that they understand when we are at work. What tells them that is the collar they wear: For each different activity we do, they wear a different collar. My boy Hunter even has a collar for stud-dog activities! Even if we practice obedience for only 10 minutes, I change collars. A pain, yes, but consistency in training is critical if you expect your dog to be consistent when he’s working.

13. Save the exercise the dog loves best for last, then give tons of praise—even if the rest of the session went badly. Your dog will remember how her day ended, so if you want to start the next day on a happy, positive note, end every last session of the day on a happy note. And that is not always an easy thing to do!

—Jack Sharkey, owner-handler of Chartay, the Vizsla who was the first quintuple champion in AKC history

Adapted from a “Dogsport 101” article that ran in AKC Family Dog.

Once you’ve mastered these skills, consider training for dog for the Canine Good Citizen test.
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Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

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