Obedience Training: 7 Pro Tips for Perfecting Your Dog Training Skills

Obedience Training Tips for Perfecting Your Dog Training Skills

Before you begin obedience training, it may be time to level up your dog training skills to achieve the best results with your pup. Maybe you have a good handle on the basics but feel like you and your dog need just a little bit better communication to help your dog understand what you want. It can be hard to think like a dog and communicate in a way that they understand. I've been working with dogs for over 20 years, so I totally get it.

You can yell “Come” 183 times, but if your dog doesn’t understand what “come” means or the desired behavior hasn't been reinforced enough, your pup will just continue what he is doing, and you may become frustrated because you feel like your dog is ignoring you.

News flash! Dogs don't speak the same way we do. As the complex thinker in the relationship, we have to adjust our training and communication methods to help our dogs understand what we want them to do. It's like teaching your pup a foreign language while using that foreign language (instead of your dog’s language) to teach. It's not as simple as Duolingo.

That's where training comes in. Training creates a common language you can use together. We have to teach the dogs what our words mean and what to do when they hear that noise come out of our mouths.


7 Pro Obedience Training Tips to Help You Perfect Your Dog Training Skills and Improve Your Dog’s Behavior

Let's talk about rewards first. At How to Train A Dream Dog, we’re big fans of rewards-based training because it is a great way to motivate your pup. You’re probably already familiar with rewards like those tasty treats that get your dog's attention and tell him he's a good boy. There are other types of rewards as well, such as play, access to something your dog wants, or even engagement with you.


Effective Use of Training Rewards for Dogs During Obedience Training

Food rewards are the most useful when shaping a dog’s behavior. Food alters brain chemistry when used with training and really helps the dog understand that he should do more of whatever it is he's doing that results in a food reward.


Food rewards, like dog training treats, are effective motivators


There are different levels of rewards that are used at various times depending on the difficulty of the task you're working on. Difficult tasks usually mean we need a better reward. If you're working on a skill that your pup has learned well, you might drop the treat value down to something less valuable, like kibble. That way, you're not loading them up with too many additional calories.

Low-Value and High-Value Dog Training Treats

The concept of high- and low-value rewards is something we talk about a lot in our online course. Did you know that there is such a thing as too high a value treat? Let's say that you were going to ask your dog to sit. If you have a piece of chicken, what do you think your dog is going to do? Probably jump up in hopes of getting a little piece of that tasty morsel. In this case, you might have to use something less exciting to send the message that you're looking for calm sitting behavior. You have to find that sweet spot between rewarding him with something he's willing to work for but not so exciting that he loses his marbles while he's doing it.

3 Myths About Training With Food

Before moving on to another training topic, I want to debunk a few myths about training with food.

Myth #1: Using treats will cause the dog to beg. Dogs will beg if you reinforce the behavior of begging. I can feed my pups human food even when I'm in the kitchen, but they never ever beg because they've never been given a treat while begging.

Myth #2: Dogs will only work if you use food rewards. Dogs are very capable of following cues even if food isn't present. This comes down to training the right way, weaning off the treats, and using other forms of positive reinforcement.

Myth #3: Dogs should just do what you say because you're in charge. Really? I am not a fan of that mindset. It does not build up a trusting, loving relationship with you. It doesn't work with my teenager, and it's not going to work with my dogs, either. They do what I ask because they've learned that good things will happen when they do them.


Marker Words for Dogs

Let's talk about the “marker word.” The marker word allows you to control the timing better. It's like taking a snapshot of the exact behavior you want to see more of, meaning you are saying, “Yes!” at the precise moment your pup does the right behavior.

Since it takes a little bit of time to get that treat from your treat pouch and down to the dog, “yes,” “nice,” or “good” is the word that says to the dog, “I want to see more of the behavior you just did.”

While you can use whatever word you'd like for your marker word, I don't really recommend “good boy” or “good girl” because it rolls off the tongue a little too naturally, and you end up overusing it. That’s why I prefer to use the word “Yes!”



Let's talk more about timing. Timing is so important to the dog training process because your dog is learning a foreign language – human language – so you can't just say, “Oh yeah, Bud, here's the treat for the sitting that you did a few minutes ago.” Bud won’t understand.

And if Bud is a puppy, he has the attention span of a goldfish. So not only does he not know what you're saying, he totally forgot about sitting. In Bud’s puppy brain, he's moved on to 38 other thoughts since he thought about sitting. So, although Bud loves the reward, he has no idea that reward is even remotely associated with sitting.

What happens when your timing is off? The dog learns the wrong behavior or makes the wrong association. An example of this is when you say “sit,” and the dog sits but then gets up. If you're a little late with your “yes,” and say it when Bud is in the process of standing, Bud thinks you’re happy with the butt coming up out of a sit. In other words, Bud associates the reward with standing, so that's the behavior Bud will do again the next time you ask him to sit, and pretty soon, your “sit” cue looks more like a jack in the box.


Dog Training Hand Signals, Body Language, and Verbal Cues

If your dogs don't speak your language, what other ways can you teach them? You can try to speak more of their language – body language. This means using hand signals when you're teaching a skill or behavior. This is a great idea because dogs learn visually. Just keep in mind that signals need to be clear and distinct from each other. I'll give you examples in just a minute.

You might have noticed that often your body language cues the behavior – it could be a facial expression or a noise you make just before you say something. A common example of this is an eyebrow movement or the inhale you take before you say a command.

One of my students only has to do a little buckle of her knees to get her dog to come running to her. She used to lower her body posture and shuffle backward, but the pup has become so good at coming that all she needs to do now is that little knee twitch, and he'll be right there. That's the sign of a pup who's been rewarded handsomely.

Body language cues often happen naturally, so you might not even be aware that you do them. But if you're watching your dog's response carefully, you'll notice what he responds to. Some common commands that work well with hand signals are “sit,” “down,” or “stay.”

You might be familiar with some people putting their hand up in a stop signal to give their pups the “stay” cue. But you could also lower your hand down for a stay. Or you can make up your own hand signal. As long as you're consistent, your pup will get it.

But what about the words? Humans naturally communicate orally, so it's also a good idea to teach your dog what you want him to do when you say certain words. You equate the word with the behavior, but you have to teach the behavior without the word first. This is a really common mistake. So when your dog can do that skill 10 out of 10 times with just your hand motion, then you can start to add in the word. Adding in a verbal cue only happens after the desired behavior is solid.

Do not repeat the word, though. If your dog isn't doing what you ask the first time you ask, it means you have more work to do, and it's time to put away the word for just a bit. Many people accidentally poison the word “come” by using it long before the dog knows what it means. I've worked with many students who've done this. So don't feel bad if it happens to you.

If you poison the word using it over and over and it's not getting you the desired results, it's time to retire the word, pick a new one and start over. Some students use things like “here,” “close,” or even “come” in a different language.


Anatomy of An Effective Obedience Training Session

First, your pup should be on a leash during every training session. The leash sends the message to your dog that it's training time and time to pay attention.

Next, repeat the training sequence a few times to help your dog get the hang of the new behavior or skill.

Be sure to reward your pup and reinforce your dog’s good behavior or performance of the new skill.

Don't switch locations or make it any harder just yet. There's going to be time for that later. For each training session, you want to stack the deck in your dog’s favor so the dog is successful.

Be sure to keep training sessions short, fun, and rewarding. Your training session might last only 1-2 minutes or less. That's pretty normal for a training session. We don't want to push it any harder than that.

Ideally, we want to end the training session before a dog starts becoming a little restless because restlessness is a sign of frustration. And learning is less likely to take hold once your pup becomes frustrated. The best way to avoid frustration and keep training sessions fun is to take a break for a fun play session.

You might revisit this training again later in the day for a few rounds. And if the dog continues to do well, it's time to add in a few distractions in that location.

If ever the dog cannot comply with your requests, it means you've turned up that training dial a little too quickly, and it's time to take a step back.


The Importance of Play

Research has shown that the dog retains the information better if you end a training session with some play. Engaging in play with your pup is also an important way to build a healthy and happy human-canine bond.


Record and Review Training Sessions to Help You Improve Your Dog Training Skills

Here's my final pro tip: record your training sessions now when you're in the moment because it's actually hard to think of all the things you're supposed to do while you’re engaged in training your dog. But going back and looking at what you've been working on will give you invaluable feedback about what you could do differently. These training recordings also give you a chance to watch your dog's body language to see what he might be feeling and thinking. Athletes often go back and rewatch games to find room for improvement, and you should, too.


Recap of 7 Obedience Training Tips for Perfecting Your Dog Training Skills


Just remember the way your dog is going to learn new things is by you doing the work. You have to put in the time.

Michele Lennon with her dream dogs

About the trainer

Michele Lennon

After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.