How to Train Your Dog in 9 Easy Steps

Learn on your own, or hire a pro to help.

Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

Train your dog in 10 easy steps

So you got a new puppy and you need to train it, but you have no clue where to start. That’s not an uncommon situation. Paul Kott of Bliss Bound Hound in Oakland, California, has been training dogs for 20 years and is certified by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Along with co-owner Julia Kane, Bliss Bound Hound — and its 12 employees — offers a one-stop dog care shop providing dog walking, doggy daycare, dog training and vet services. Thumbtack Top Pro Kott walks you through the first steps of training your dog.

No matter what your long-range dog training goals are, the basic foundation is to socialize your dog. Being "socialized" means your pooch can interact with other people, animals and new situations without becoming reactive, aggressive or scared. It also means you can have a life and leave your pet alone in the house when you need to.

Shopping List

Clicker training device, crate, leash, harness, treat pouch, treats

STEP 1: How to train your dog

Get a behavioral assessment

Even if you want to train your dog yourself, it’s a good idea to have a professional assess your dog or new pup. A pro sees behavioral clues you will not, Kott says. Especially with rescue dogs, a professional can help you understand why your dog has certain reactions and how to work with them. When you get a dog from a shelter, you often receive a basic behavioral assessment when you adopt. That’s great, but Kott recommends going one step further to get an impartial, behavioral assessment from a trained pro.

STEP 2: How to train your dog

Use a clicker training device

A clicker training device is a handheld device that makes a clicking noise when pressed. The training tool works in two ways:

  1. Positive reinforcement. With this type of training, you deliver a treat as soon as the animal displays the behavior you want. For example, if training to sit, when the dog’s butt hits the ground you give it a treat. It’s hard to time perfectly, so the clicker creates a marker in time, letting the dog know a treat is coming. Otherwise, you may be rewarding the dog for standing up!

  2. Pavlovian principles. The clicker takes advantage of the Pavlovian instinct of sound and delivery of food, so the click can become connected with a treat. Eventually the sound of the click alone will be enough to make your dog feel rewarded.

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STEP 3: How to train your dog

Use a crate

A crate is a den for your animal that can also be used for housetraining. When used properly, it reduces anxiety for your pet. Get professional guidance on how to use it as a tool — otherwise it can cause psychological harm to your pet. A crate should never be used as a place of punishment.

STEP 4: How to train your dog

Purchase supplies

Keep yourself and your dog safe by using properly fitting equipment, including a leash, harness and possibly a treat pouch. A harness is helpful if your dog is prone to reacting to other animals or sounds while on a walk. A treat pouch keeps hands free and provides easy access for positive reinforcement training.

STEP 5: How to train your dog

Socialize your puppy

Kott recommends socializing puppies in the first three months of their lives. They are most receptive to the world around them when they are young and can learn more easily without fear or reaction. Expose them to:

  • Variety of social situations
  • People in different styles of clothing (hats, glasses, etc.)
  • Different types of dogs and animals

STEP 6: How to train your dog

Be mindful of vaccinations

In direct contrast to Step 5, vets won’t give a puppy’s last vaccination shots until 16 weeks, Kott says. The critical first months for socialization are also when the puppy is most susceptible to illness. Don’t take your new puppy to the dog park before it’s had all of its shots. It can be fatal for your pooch. Puppies can still learn and accept new things after that 12-week mark, but to take advantage of their new puppy wonder and to prepare them to be balanced, happy hounds, puppy play groups provide a solution. Dog services such as Bliss Bound Hound offer sanitary, supervised puppy play groups tailor made for socialization.

STEP 7: How to train your dog

Understand your rescue dog

When assessing a rescue dog before preparing for socialization, Kott says, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Immediate need. Is there separation anxiety or behavior issues that make it difficult to leave the dog alone? If so, these must be addressed before you do anything else.
  • Counterconditioning. Does your rescue dog already know basic commands such as to come when called? This is called "counterconditioning," meaning the dog responds as you want, not as it is inclined to do. If so, you will have more control over the animal, and your dog will be safer in social situations.

Consider these training options for working with your rescue dog:

  • Desensitization. This training technique creates a pleasant association to counter the negative condition life has given the dog. If your dog is scared of people in hats, for example, you can slowly increase its tolerance in regards to proximity and interaction with people in hats through patience and positive reinforcement.
  • Behavior Adjustment Theory (BAT). This relatively new training methodology helps dogs change behaviors such as fear or reactivity around other dogs to resolve those issues and learn new healthy behaviors.

STEP 8: How to train your dog

Walk your dog

Walking your dog on a leash is a key part of its socialization process. Instead of bringing your dog to the dog park the first day, start slowly and give your dog time to get used to walking with you on a leash. Use your training techniques, and don’t allow the dog to pull you or react to sights and sounds. If your pup reacts aggressively to other dogs, remain calm and redirect your pooch.

STEP 9: How to train your dog

Introduce other dogs

Nose-to-nose intros are rude in dogland, Kott says. Follow careful protocol with dog introductions, and when possible, do so with both dogs on leashes. Start by creating a body block between the two dogs. Standing between the dogs will steer one dog in the direction of the other dog’s rear end. That’s a polite introduction in dogland—tail to tail, followed by walking side by side. Bringing two dogs on a walk and introducing them tail-to-tail, then walking them side by side on leashes in a controlled way can help break the ice.

STEP 10: How to train your dog

Control your dog

As a dog owner, it’s your job to bring your dog around other animals in a socially responsible way. Watch your dog’s behavior. Jumping up on other dogs can be interpreted as a threat. Your dog may be attacked, even if it’s only playing. Introduce your dog slowly to larger social settings with other dogs off-leash. Guide your dog’s interactions until you are confident that it responds to your voice commands and you can control its behavior — and ultimately its safety.

Training your dog yourself is possible, Kott says, there’s no question about it. It really depends on your dog’s underlying behavior issues and how much time you have. For some, the resources and time required to develop the skills to best help the animal are a big investment — perhaps even requiring time off work. Professional dog trainers give you and your dog tools within the first session, and you can make great strides in the first few weeks. Whether training your dog yourself or hiring a professional dog trainer, a well-behaved dog means a happy, healthy dog.

About the pro - BlissBound Hound is the only truly professional full-time dog care technology company. Our app and client portal use our BlissMatch algorithm to match dogs by behavior, not size or breed. You can track your dog's service online or through our app with pictures, report cards, GPS tracking, and maps.Show more

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