Basic Dog Training Tips

Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement is teaching an animal to perform an action in order to gain a reward.  You can mould or change behaviour by rewarding the behaviour you want and ignoring (not rewarding or acknowledging) or managing the behaviour you wish to discourage or change.  Dogs are not ethical beings, they do not know what is right and wrong – they only know what is favourable to do.  This is why reward based training methods work so well.

Rewards can come in the form of verbal praise, pats, treats, walks, car rides, ball games and toys.  The rewards for your dog must be something they enjoy.  Some dogs don’t like lots of patting, other dogs don’t play with balls – find something rewarding for YOUR dog.  If your dog is food orientated, they might like treats such as liver treats, chicken, cheese or fresh meat. 

Use your chosen reward (in small quantities if food) and use a word which means they are right – something like ‘yes’ or ‘good’.  Eventually, once the dog understands the exercise, you can reduce the food reward and the dog will understand that it has done the correct behaviour by hearing your voice.

Be sure to keep tasty treats in your pocket whenever you and your dog go out into the world, in a new environment for your dog or are planning to do some training so that you’ll be ready to reward your dog.


Using a treat in the hand to show the dog the way you want it to move.

Plan the steps to your goal then,

  1. Lure dog , mark and reward with lure and repeat
  2. Lure dog, mark and reward with treat from other hand
  3. Lure dog pretend to hold treat (hand signal), mark and reward with treat from other hand
  4. Introduce hand signal
  5. Add voice cue

Free Shaping

Waiting for the behaviour or part behaviour to occur with no prompting.  i.e. When the dog chooses to lay down on their bed with our being asked say ‘Drop’ or ‘Bed’ and reward.

  1. Reward interest
  2. Reward interaction
  3. Reward position in place
  4. Reward position and release
  5. Increase time and movement add cue

5 reasons dogs make mistakes

  1. Lack of understanding
  2. Lack of reinforcement/motivation
  3. Lack of relationship between handler and dog
  4. Lack of boundaries / respect
  5. Physical – can the dog physically do what you are asking

Use a marker

A clicker is a small device that makes a ‘click’ sound when pressed.  If you give the dog a reward (food, treat) after each click, your dog will learn to LOVE the sound of the clicker.  The ‘click’ sound will come to mean ‘REWARD TIME!’ Click or use the word ‘YES!’ only when the dog has done something you like.

When you have the behaviour working in one environment, take it on the road and train the exercise in different locations. Yes, re-train from step 1. It takes beginner dogs a while to work out ‘sit’ means ‘sit’ anytime, anywhere.

Hands on Training Techniques - Stage 1

Sit:  The dog will sit on a verbal or hand signal

  • Hold a treat at dog’s nose level, get dog’s nose glued to the treat and slowly move treat up over the nose, between the eyes to the top of the head between the ears.
  • As you move your hand back the dog’s hindquarters should see-saw to the ground.
  • As soon as the backside hits the ground, mark and reward with a treat.
  • If the dog is not following the lure into a sit, you can help the dog understand the desired behaviour by asking for a little more movement in the direction of each time.

Stand:  The dog will stand steady on a verbal or hand signal. This is useful during grooming and vet exams.

  • Ask the dog to sit, mark, and reward.
  • Bring a treat from the dogs’ nose slowly away from the dog keeping it at same level.
  • As the dog moves to standing position, mark and reward.

Drop:  Dog will lie down on cue. This is used when out on walks, in the yard or inside on a mat.

  • Ask the dog to sit, mark and reward.
  • While the dog is sitting, bring a treat from the dog’s nose level slowly lowering straight down to the floor between the dog’s front legs.
  • As the dog lowers its head, bring the treat forward slowly
  • As the dog lowers its body, mark and reward.
  • There are many alternatives force free methods for teaching drop.  If your dog is one of those that this method does not work for ask the AWL for help.

Come:  The dog returns to you when called

  • Reinforce the dog for sitting facing you and close to your knees.
  • Start close to the dog and move away a short distance.  Call the dog “pup, pup, pup” in a high pitched excited voice
  • As the dog turns to you Mark (Yes!) and Reinforce with a treat or toy.
  • Once dog is confidently coming to you, lure or ask for a sit on return.
  • Start teaching your recall verbal cue once the dog is reliable in coming.
  • You and your rewards (action, fun, or food) have to be more interesting and desirable than whatever else the dog can find.
  • Repeat gradually increasing distance and distractions like in the backyard when sniffing or barking; at the park on a short lead then long lead then short lead while talking to another dog etc.
  • Make it a habit to touch the collar when giving the dog the treat/toy.
  • Even with experienced dogs, at the park, practice recalls a number of times during the outing – the dog becomes accustomed to “I’m getting a treat and I go play again” rather than “Fun’s over, I’m going home.”

Hands on Training Techniques - Stage 2


‘Watch’ is used to get the dog looking at you to focus on you.  Often you want to use it when the dog is not already looking at you and when you can’t reach its face.  Early introduction of a verbal cue is desirable in this exercise.

  • Hold a treat on the dog’s nose.
  • Move the treat towards the top of your nose to between your eyes.
  • As soon as the dog moves its head to look at you, click then praise with the treat immediately.
  • Exceptionally polite dogs won’t make eye contact but should look towards your face.
  • When the dog is reliably looking at you, use the verbal cue ‘WATCH’ or ‘LOOK’ before using the lure.

Teach an easy U-Turn

This is a great strategy to quickly lead your dog away when you come across a person or animals that frightens them.  Practice first in a calm familiar place.  Then you can try the U-Turn when you’re walking outside with your dog.

Start with short distances, no distractions (inside the house or in the backyard) and high value food rewards

  • Move away from the dog.
  • When the dog moves with you, click and praise.
  • When the dog gets to you immediately give a reward.
  • Practice until the dog turns quickly to be with you and then put in the cue ‘U-Turn’.

Practice the steps above until your dog quickly whips around to walk in the opposite direction as soon as they hear you say the cue ‘U-Turn’.  Reward after the two of you have changed directions and have walked a few steps.

Once your dog does the U-Turn well in your quiet training place at home start practising when you take walks together.  Even if there is nothing scaring your dog or making it bark still practice.  Since exciting sights and smells on your walks will distract your dog, you’ll probably need to use a treat again.  Once they get used to doing this outdoors, you can stop using the treat but don’t forget to get out a treat to reward at random times.

Hand targeting

Training your dog to target a hand can teach them that hands reaching toward him aren’t really threatening or frightening.  In fact, they’ll learn that reaching hands predict really good things, like treats!  Secondly, hand targeting can give your dog an acceptable behaviour to perform when they are in a stressful situation, such as greeting unfamiliar people or animals.  Hand target can be used instead of lure to teach any exercise. 

  • Decide what shape you want to use e.g. fist with palm away from dog.
  • Treat in hand (as a lure, move hand towards dog’s nose and hold 2cm away. As soon as the dog’s nose moves in the direction of your hand, click then treat – giving a different treat from your other hand.
  • Practice 5 repetitions with a lure in your target hand.  Gradually stop using the lure and increase distance the dog has to move towards the target hand.

This is a good exercise to employ to distract a dog from engaging in unwanted behaviour and getting the dog’s attention.

  • Show the dog a small treat and as you put it on the ground and let go say ‘Find It’.
  • Repeat activity a few times, moving the spot where you put the treat. 
  • Repeat a few times, dropping the treat a few inches, moving the spot.
  • Toss the treat a few inches in different directions.
  • Occasionally use 2 or 3 treats at a time.

Cues & Signals

These are some suggested cues.  You may choose your own but it is important to ensure all family members are using the same cues and training methods.

Verbal Cue

Hand Signal

Dog’s response


Palm up, hand moves up

sit up or down            


Palm down, move hand down

lie down



walk on loose lead


finger point to face

look at my face


Hand to dog palm first

nose touch to hand


Closed hand with treat

not touch treat till cue take it


open hand

Eats food