Learning how to train your dog begins with a change of behavior. that change is not on the dog's part but on yours. Your whole demeanor must become dog-like. The key to this is to set the stage for a transformation in the dog. The first goal, in short, is to get your dog to see you as the alpha in his pack.
The idea of a pack is deeply embedded in your dog's DNA. They are, after all, wolves. Wolves, like many predators, are social animals. They live in groups that have a strict pecking order. The alpha male is the 'king' of the pack. His rule is law and, unless challenged, is venerated by the rest of the pack.
How to Train a Dog: Who is the Alpha?
Becoming the alpha is actually quite easy. I urge people to create a scenario in which you tie the dog to you. I mean this quite literally. Using a six to eight-foot leash (depending on the size and age of your dog) you attach the leash to you. I use a belt-loop to make this connection. Now, wherever you go the dog must follow. Watch TV, so does the dog. Eat breakfast, so does the dog. Go outside for a walk, so does the dog.
All the while, with the dog attached to your hip, give her a training treat. I do this at regular intervals, around every ten to fifteen minutes. Within a couple of weeks, when you release the dog from the umbilical leash, s/he remains at your side. You are the alpha. Now training can begin in earnest.
How To Train a Dog: Why is the Alpha Important?
In domesticated dogs, your family replaces the pack in the dog's mind. The very idea that a dog could live outside of a pack is unheard of. Think of packs of feral dogs that roam many city streets. While unrelated to each other, these dogs rely on their basic instincts to live and hunt as social beings.
Domesticated dogs rely on their instincts to become a part of the family 'pack' to make sense of the world. When you give them the opportunity to see you as the alpha in the pack they are able to settle into a subservient role. You'll know this is the case when your dog shows you her belly as she lays on her back with paws extended in the air. S/he is telling you that you are the boss. Give her belly a rub and the gesture is complete.
How To Train a Dog: Moving forward
Once you establish that you are the alpha, training can begin in earnest. The first two commands the dog must learn are to sit and stay. Obedience training is the stuff of teaching your dog the manners of the pack. Dogs need manners to exist alongside their human companions. In short, training your dog begins with manners. Once s/he has a good set of manners she is ready for tricks, but not until s/he is obedient.
We'll talk more about how to train your dog to sit and stay in later posts. But for now, remember that positive reinforcement is the backbone of any training routine. Training treats after your dog does the right thing and nothing when s/he doesn't, are a must. Kind praise goes a long way in helping the dog learn to obey. While they do not understand English (or any other language) they do respond to tone. A loud, sharp YES is likely to produce as visceral a response as a loud, sharp NO. Discipline with your voice and praise with your voice. Your dog will respond to the tone of your voice rather than the words you say.