Here is a how to on how I train dogs. I teach my dogs focus and to ignore distractions by using a balanced approach in my training. The very first thing I do is set up a feeding schedule, do not free range feed your dog. In other words don’t leave food out for them throughout the day to eat as they please. Food is a primary reinforce. Use it to your benefit. Either feed your dog once a day or twice a day, morning and evening. Figure out the correct amount of food to keep your dog at a healthy weight. My 70lb dog eats 2 cups a day and my 90lb. dog eats 4 cups per day. If you want to know a healthy weight is on your dog you should see his ribs when he runs. If you can see hip bones, you’re not dog feeding enough. In the United States under feeding is not a problem. I see way too many overweight dogs. If your dog is overweight, you are not getting enough exercise.
When feeding your dog give him/her 5 minutes to eat their food. If they walk away from it, pick it up, they lose that portion for the day. By doing this you teach the dog eat, when you tell them to eat. They depend on you for survival and you are teaching them you are the one in charge of your pack. Pack is the same as family. To humans it’s family and to the dog you are a pack. So now we have dogs that are a healthy weight. Train them with food.
If you are really motivated instead of feeding them their kibble in a bowl, feed them by hand their portion for the day and make them work for it. When I say work, I mean; sit, down, come, heal, place, speak, shake, etc. Use food to teach them to heel. As you walk feed the dog at your hip. This teaches the dog the heel position. I hear on a regular basis I worked with a trainer and the dog does great in the house but as soon as we get outdoors the dog doesn’t listen at all. The reason this occurs is distractions. Distractions can be odor, movement, children playing, the neighbor dog barking, and so on. It’s as if your dog has lost his earing. Suddenly the dog could care less about the treats you have in your hand. What’s next?
The first thing I tell people is to get themselves a long line, 15 -20’ will do. Let the dog drag the line around when he is outdoors. When raising puppies I condition them at an early age to drag a leash around. Prior to this he should have been dragging a short leash in the house, see my potty training article. A short leash on the dog in the house can help to stop the dog from running from you if he has something in his mouth he shouldn’t have and to stop unwanted behavior live jumping on the furniture or the counter. Use the leash to redirect him off the couch or paws off the counter. Outdoors the long line is used to prevent the dog from running from you. Dogs are faster than us humans, and stepping on the line stops the dog in his tracts. He learns we don’t play the chase me game. The long line can teach boundaries in the yard, not to chase children and to come when called, even when you are distracted.
Next step is to find a training collar that works for you and your dog. A gentle leader is not a training collar. The gentle leader does not solve a pulling issue or a dog that has difficulties with distractions. How it works is that it pulls the dogs snout the direction you want to go so he cannot star at distractions. Some people swear by them. As soon as they put the gentle leader on the dog he walked much better. In my opinion it’s ignoring the issue. I believe everyone should be able to control their dog and if you cannot there is a struggle over leadership. Who is the boss you or your dog? Sometimes the issue is the dog has needs more training with distractions. Teach him the correct behavior and gradually work him around distractions. All dogs should be able to go for a walk and ignore other dogs, animals and people.
The type of collar you choose is very important. The flat nylon collars are great for puppies and to put tags on your dog, but not so good for training. Flat collars are not training collars. You need something that you can interrupt behavior the flat collar does not do this. The dog can pull and lunge with a flat collar and you cannot correct this behavior. The more you pull the more the dog pulls.
I do not recommend harnesses either, because harnesses are used for pulling. Sled dogs where harnesses and tracking dogs where harness. Pets should not wear harness because they teach the dog to pull. What we teach is the dog to walk next to you with a loose leash. That is the goal. When someone comes for training the first thing I tell them is lose the harness.
A word about retractable leashes. Again they teach dogs to pull. I do not recommend them. People like them because they can be lazy give the dog a lot of line to pull, run around sniff and pee. I do not like them because people do not watch their dogs, the dogs have too much line and they get wrapped around me and my dog when I am out in public. A 6’ leash is plenty of line for your dog to go out and potty. This way you have better control and your dog can learn to walk without pulling.
Slip collars can be useful if used properly but the thing with collar is that they should ride high on the neck just behind the ears. Slip collars don’t stay and slip down the neck. I prefer the Wade Collar. It’s similar to a slip collar but snugs up tight so the collar does not slip down the neck. Either collar can cause injury to the throat if used improperly. A trainer can show you how to use the slip collar correctly.
For the big powerful dogs I recommend a prong collar. The prong collar needs to fit the dog tightly around the neck. I once rescued a big male Bouvier that had dragged its owner as it chased a squirrel. They had a prong collar on the dog so loose it slipped right over his head. Collars not fitted properly will not work as they were intended.
Remote collar training can be another option in training your dog to listen with distractions and to have off leash reliability. I do caution people from purchasing these collars online or from a retail store. Many collars are poorly made and use batteries that frequently need to be replaced. They end up costing you more in the long run. I recommend Dogtra because the collar is rechargeable and there are many low settings. Most other collars go up to fast for the dog and it becomes punishment, which scares the dog. It’s best to hire a professional trainer to teach you how to use the remote collar properly. You can really finesse your training with remote collars if used correctly.
A leash and a collar are your best friends for both you and your dog when teaching behavior. Find a collar that works best for your dog. Confident dogs with high energy can be a challenge. If you are stuck and your dog is making you crazy invest in some training. A professional trainer can save both you and your dog from a lot of stress. Training is the way to a long and happy life with your canine companion.