The secret of successful dog training

ready300This is quite a short post.

A kind of ‘thought for the day’

I was thinking this morning about what really separates those that succeed in training their dogs to a high standard, from those that do not.

Is it a smart dog?

I have heard plenty of people say that their dog is too stupid to train.

And an almost equivalent number that think their dog is too smart!

It would certainly be a consolation to those that fail to train their dogs, to know that it is the dog’s fault and not theirs.

But the evidence suggests otherwise.

With modern positive reinforcement training, it is possible to train far less intelligent animals than dogs, chickens for example, even goldfish, to do all kinds of things.

So that’s not it.  You don’t need a smart dog to succeed in training.  Any dog will do.

Is it knowledge?

You might think that the knowledge of the trainer is important.  And it is.the secret to successful dog trainingThe more you know about how dogs learn  and about today’s modern dog training techniques the better.  Understanding how a dog changes his behaviour in response to the consequences of past behaviour is important.

But you know, there are people that really don’t know a thing about canine behaviour, and yet manage to train their dogs to a very high standard.

They simply follow techniques passed down to them from other successful trainers.

This is how much traditional dog training took place, handed down as a craft from one generation to another.

It had its drawbacks, particularly in the way that dogs were treated, but that didn’t stop people training dogs

So knowledge is helpful, but not really our secret.


Is it equipment?

You don’t need a lot of equipment to train a dog.  A whistle comes in handy, but you can use your voice instead.  A lead keeps your dog safe, but you can train a dog quite well without one.

A bag to put your treats in, a clicker to mark great behaviours, these are useful.  But you can certainly train a dog without these too.

So no, it isn’t equipment.   But what about the way we train?

Is it using the right method?

Using the right method is important.

Training positively will help no end, especially when it comes to establishing new behaviours.

But let’s be honest, many dogs still got trained the old fashioned way.  So the right method is not the true secret to success.

Is it experience?

We are getting closer now, for an experienced person will have spent more time with their dogs.  But it is quite possible for an experienced trainer to succeed with several dogs and then fail with the next.

Because here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter how much you know, or how clever your techniques, or how much experience you have, if you and your dog are never in the same place at the same time

It doesn’t matter how hard you train if it is too long since your last session and the dog has forgotten where you left off.

Your dog is not going to get trained without regular input from you, total one-on-one focus from you, for at least ten minutes, at least once a day, at least four times a week.

Anything less will be a struggle.

Have you guessed?

I think you have guessed the secret by now.

The secret to successful dog training is  –  turning up

Ideally twice a day, six to seven days a week.

Just turn up

Turn up, with your dog, and spend time training him.

Commit to doing that for ten minutes, every day, rain or shine.  And you’ll end up with a dog that is better trained than when you started.

Yes you should acquire information and knowledge, read up on techniques etc in the evenings.  This will help.  But turning up is the key.  If you turn up, repeatedly, all the rest will follow.

How about you?

Do you turn up for training with your dog every day?  Or is it a struggle to find the time.  Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Further information

Total-RecallIf you want to make great use of the time you spend training your dog, you might enjoy Total Recall

You can find how how dogs learn, and how to put the knowledge to practical use by working through the training exercises in this popular recall training programme.

Total Recall shows you how use rewards effectively, and how to teach your dog to obey you in tempting or challenging locations.

It also has an extensive problem solving section.

You can check it out here: Total Recall


This website is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson

Pippa's book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs, and her Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to puppy care and early training

by Pippa Mattinson on November 3, 2014

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally November 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

I love this. I have huge amounts of fun with my dog because we never just go ‘for a walk’. She (an English Springer) loves it when we stop and do some retrieving, or some sitting and staying, or whatever – at the moment she’s learning flyball, so we are playing speed games. I rarely have the chance for a really long walk with her – those are weekend treats, but I find that half an hour with lots of interest is great for both of us.


Pippa Mattinson November 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Flyball sounds like a great hobby for an active young springer 🙂 Enjoy your training and thanks for your comment!


Marie November 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Thank you Pippa, for this article! I just love hanging out with my dog and yes, during every outing there is a training opportunity. Even when I go for my run a few times a week, which is when my lab can be completely free, I put in a training element, be it a sit, a down, a stay or a few heel steps, it is all training. And I love it and so does my dog. Yes, I also dedicate one session a day to only training (= mental work for my puppy). We go to obedience class once a week. I also take my dog to a man trailing session every Wednesday morning. I think he loves that the absolute most: he is in complete charge as he is telling me which direction to go and there is always a positive result at the end of all the work: he finds the missing person and he gets a treat! Having my dog has changed my life!


Pippa Mattinson November 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Sounds like he has a great life too Marie 🙂


Anita November 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I try and see everything as an opportunity to train. On our walks we practice heel work, recall, searching etc.
When I’m preparing dinner it’s a sit stay on his mat.
Door bell rings it’s a go to your crate opportunity.
All good behaviour rewarded, sometimes with a pat and a good bye, sometimes a treat, sometimes a play with his favourite toy.
He’s far from perfect, I’m still struggling with consistency with walking to heel but he is only 8 months.
I also do a formal obedience class a week and have just started TD rally. I love hanging out with my dog, I hope he feels the same !


Pippa Mattinson November 3, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I bet he does 🙂


Anita November 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Should read good boy not bye


Nicola Davis November 3, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Your right, its spending time with your dogs all the way….. Im lucky I am able to choose to spend as much time with my dogs at the moment as I need too, but I would go so far as to say its not necessarily even “training” in the formal sense of the word that works, but more of a lifestyle. Its how you live and interact with your dogs day in and day out that gets results.


Sally November 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Nicola 🙂


Kathleen Rayner February 25, 2015 at 7:54 am

Hi Pippa,
Thanks for that article. I take every opportunity to train with my 15 month old Labrador. Out walking, in the evenings, while cooking dinner too.
We do obedience on Thursdays, gundog and working trials on alternate Saturdays. He is very smart and remembers what he is supposed to be doing better than I do sometimes.
I now you have to have the time to do all this but so much can be Fournier n the home and garden 🙂


Kathleen Rayner February 25, 2015 at 7:55 am

Hi Pippa,
Thanks for that article. I take every opportunity to train with my 15 month old Labrador. Out walking, in the evenings, while cooking dinner too.
We do obedience on Thursdays, gundog and working trials on alternate Saturdays. He is very smart and remembers what he is supposed to be doing better than I do sometimes.
I know you have to have the time to do all this but so much can be done in the home and garden 🙂


Vanessa October 9, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Love this article Pippa! Love thinking up new fun things to do with my 5 month old Lab puppy – she’s doing really well – I make her work for everything she gets – just a sit, down, stand, roll over – something quick in between heel work – just love the interaction with her. I think enjoying doing it is a huge part – the one thing we struggle with is holding onto the retrieve article until I take it – she’ll run around with it but as soon as I call her in she drops it at my feet!


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