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How to Train Your Dog Like a Pro

Dog training tips to help you go from amateur to professional.

How to Train Your Dog Like a Pro

Professional trainers always direct a dog towards calm composure to enforce their commands. (Photo By: Susanna Love)

Professional trainers have a distinct advantage when it comes to handling animals. Over a career, a pro works with a multitude of canine personalities and spends countless hours watching different training scenarios unfold. This experience affords pro trainers unique perspective on how dogs see things and how they react to the environment and stimuli around them. Pros have to become adept at recognizing and applying specific personal traits and personalized training techniques to bring out the best in each animal. There are, however, broad traits and general techniques that professional trainers tend to exhibit that amateur handlers and bird hunters can incorporate into their handling repertoire to increase their successes with their dog.


Be a Dog Whisperer

Most trainers tend to approach interactions with their animals with consistent, composed, and purposeful energy. The goal of the professional is to deliver a clear message in such a way that it is easy for the animal to interpret and process. Pros typically exhibit very little excess movement, verbalization, or emotion. Communication between trainer and animal, be it verbal or physical, is executed with clear, simple interaction. This quiet interaction is the inspiration for the continued use of the term “horse whisperer” and “dog whisperer.”

As pros interact with their animals, they work to create a receptive mindset in the animal first, and then work to correct or shape specific aspects of performance second. A pro’s demeanor around animals generally exhibits an economy of motion. The handler’s movements are slow and designed to facilitate the animal’s ability to take in, process, and react appropriately. The handler’s movements are not intended to match or compete with the tempo of the dog’s body and mindset. Instead, they are geared to steer the dog’s mind in the direction that will help both dog and trainer meet a certain behavioral goal.

dog trainer walking with a red setter inside a dog kennel
Learn how to effectively use non-verbal cues to communicate with your dog. (Photo By: Susanna Love)

Handling should, by design, help dogs achieve a composed, receptive mindset that will in turn allow that dog to digest new information successfully. The more excited an animal is, the more reactive they tend to be, often in an unhealthy way. A fast-minded dog will react quickly, without any thought process. A slower cue, a slower pace while heeling, or a pause to stand still will help that excited canine mind compose itself. Alternatively, when a dog is slow to move or react, a little more energy in the demeanor of the handler can build enthusiasm and engagement. It is a continued balancing act the handler keeps in mind during all interactions.

Demeanor & Self-Control

Despite best intentions, a training or handling session does not always go perfectly to plan. Bumps in the road occur, and small challenges or obstacles are certain to arise. For that reason, self-control is imperative when working with animals. The handler’s demeanor is often reflected in the animal’s behavior, and a trainer who is reactive to an animal’s state of mind, or to a training situation that is not going as intended, often allows a small issue to snowball into a larger problem. As a rule, pro handlers tend to be very good at exercising impulse control and can act with calm and understanding to gain a desired response from the animal. They do not over-react when things go awry. A pro’s cues are thoughtfully timed and delivered in a consistently measured degree. A pro is not driven by emotion, but rather by a thoughtful understanding of what expression or energy is required to successfully shape the animal’s mindset and behavior.  

Pro handlers don’t wait to see if the dog will eventually make the right decision about compliance or execution of the behavior. Rather, they consistently cause the behavior to happen in a timely fashion. For example, if a handler gives a verbal cue once and sees there is no change in the dog’s body indicating compliance, then they immediately enforce the verbal cue. While working on a “here” command, a pro will typically say the verbal cue “here” once, and if the dog does not begin movement in the correct direction, the handler then causes the dog to move in the appropriate direction (ie: through the use of a physical cue on a lead or a check cord during training). An example of the opposite approach is a handler that says “here, here, here, here…” and never otherwise prompts the dog to move in the appropriate direction.

professional dog trainer with english setter
A trained dog should understand what a cue is communicating, regardless of the setting or scenario. (Photo By: Susanna Love)

Pro trainers are very aware of the importance of timing in shaping behavior. A cue needs to be made the moment the action is taking place, not three seconds or more after the fact. A consistent type of cue delivered in a consistent fashion can be applied in a multitude of scenarios to build consistent performance.

Pros tend to teach behaviors in small, controlled environments, before slowly increasing the level of distraction as the dog’s proficiency increases. The pro will set the dog up for success by taking a series of small steps increasing the challenges of the environment while consistently prompting the desired trained behavior. Handling in the hunting field is generally the ultimate challenge for the dog, and the handler can build up to this level of distraction by working through a series of increasingly distracting training environments.

Professional Dog Training Tips

It is a challenge to discuss dog training in these broad terms. However, these are some consistent tips that we give our clients that help improve general handling skills:

-Tension in the human’s body begets tension in the dog. Present yourself in a calm, confident, and relaxed manner.

-Never give a command that you cannot enforce in a timely manner. Repetitive, ineffective commands desensitize the animal to the cue and cause the cue to hold less meaning. If it is a verbal cue, then say it once, kindly and clearly, and then enforce the behavior.

-Cues should be designed to gain a dog’s awareness and therefore gain compliance. If the dog is too distracted to be aware of the cue, then it is as if the cue did not occur (and from his perspective it didn’t). Keep in mind the level of distraction will determine the intensity of the cue.

-Be the leader that you would want to follow. Be fair, consistent, clear, and easy to engage with.

-Create an environment where the right thing is easy and the wrong thing is difficult.

-Have a plan and a curriculum and follow it so you know how and when to cue. Don’t jump back and forth between training styles and formats as this will confuse both the handler and the dog.


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