|Below are some basic thoughts on training your dog. Please note that I am NOT a professional trainer, by a long shot! All I really require of my guys is to be well mannered companions. The following text is simply my personal approach to dog training, at this point in my life. Suggestions are always welcome. :-)
Some important dog training Do's:
Be a good Leader. A dog looks to the leader for directions, and for a role model. A good "No Free Lunch" or Nothing in Life is Free program is the foundation for good leadership.
Be a good communicator! Learn to understand canine body language very well, and learn how to "speak" clearly to your dog, without sending conflicting signals to him. Look here for some links on communicating with your dog.
Give frequent feedback. Whenever the dog is doing a good job, tell him so! "Gooooood boy, yes, Heel!" Don't be stingy with the praise, it reassures him that he is doing the right thing. Conversely, if he initiates an inappropriate behaviour, correct him instantly, and redirect him onto the correct behaviour. Dogs, like people, perform better if they know when they are doing something wrong, as well as when they're doing it right! Remember the old children's game, "Hot or Cold", where you are seeking a hidden object, and the one who hid it tells you "nope, you're cold...getting warmer...oooh! Hot! Nooo, getting cooler..." ? ;-) That kind of feedback works well for dogs.
Be fair in your expectations, and with your corrections. Set realistic goals.
Be consistent in enforcing commands, and in the body language that accompanies those commands. Dogs are normally reading your body language more than they are listening to your words, and they are very adept at it!
Remember that this is not supposed to be a competition (you against the dog), but a partnership! You and the dog are on the same team. "Training" to many people still implies that you are forcing the dog to bend to your will, when in reality you should be focused on TEACHING the dog to cooperate with you and learn new behaviours.
Keep your dog happy, in good health, and give him plenty of exercise. A proper mental state and energy level goes a long way towards ensuring a better relationship and a more willing partner. Remember that a tired dog is generally a cooperative and well behaved dog! <bg>
Give serious consideration to positive-reinforcement methods as a base for your training, and as the largest portion of it. These methods, usually the click-and-treat or targeting styles, are highly effective, create a great rapport with the dog, enlist his eager cooperation, and can be used to train any dog (or other animal, including humans)! This is how most film and performing animals are trained. There are lots of good books and web sites on these topics..."Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor is highly recommended.
DON'T correct the dog simply b/c you are frustrated--are you 100% sure he understands what he is being asked to do? It's simply not fair to correct a dog who is confused about what you want. If you or the dog is feeling stressed, a break may be in order. Try to end the session on a positive note, if at all possible.
DON'T set the dog up to fail, then correct him when he does, indeed, fail. Set up the training so that he is almost guaranteed to succeed, and can therefore be praised for his success!
DON'T give any command you can't enforce, until you are completely sure he is reliable at performing it.
DON'T expect the dog to read your mind. English is a foreign language to him, after all! If he seems slow at understanding what you want, it is probably YOUR weakness, not the dog's. Try reading this article for a better picture of the "communication gap".
"Sit" is possibly the easiest command to teach, and it's always the first one I teach to pups. For a good description of a gentle way to teach the sit, try here. Many dogs cue off hand signals better than verbal commands, since canine communication is primarily via body language. All of my dogs "Sit" as soon as I raise my closed hand above their heads--and it took almost no time at all to teach them. Whether your dog is 4 weeks, 4 months, or 4 years old, if he doesn't already know how to "Sit", right now is the time to teach him! :-)
This command is incredibly useful, and is usually the initial basis for the No Free Lunch program, as well as many problem-solving techniques for dogs with issues. ALL dogs can learn to Sit, and ALL dogs very badly need to know this command--I can't stress that enough; it's almost impossible to have a good companion dog without it.
"Down" is the next logical step from "Sit". Simply lower a closed hand (with a treat inside) to the ground, and slowly move it towards you. He should drop his nose down to get the treat--when he does, click (or say your conditioned reinforcing word, if you use speech instead of a clicker...we use "Yes!") and open your hand to feed the treat. Gradually require more & more of his body on the ground before treating--this is the equivalent of "Getting Warmer...almost there...Yes!" You can push down on his hindquarters as you lead with the treat, to give him a better idea of what you want. Once he is performing the down, pair the word "down" with the action by saying it as he drops. Isn't target training great? :-)