How to train your dog like a pro

Professional trainers always direct the dog to calm down to obey their commands. (Photo: Susanna Love)

Professional trainers have a distinct advantage when it comes to handling animals. During his professional career, he has worked with numerous dog personalities and spent countless hours observing various training scenarios. This experience gives professional trainers a unique perspective on how dogs see things and react to their environment and surrounding stimuli. Professionals must be adept at recognizing and applying specific individual characteristics and individual training methods to bring out the best in each animal. However, there are a wide range of traits and general techniques that professional trainers tend to demonstrate that amateur handlers and bird hunters can incorporate into their repertoire to increase their success with their dogs.

Be a dog whisperer

Most trainers tend to approach interactions with their animals with consistent, orderly, and purposeful energy. The professional’s goal is to convey a clear message in a way that facilitates the animal’s interpretation and processing. Professors typically display very little extreme movement, verbal expression, or emotion. Communication between trainer and animal is done through clear, simple interactions, whether verbal or physical. This quiet interaction is the inspiration for the continued use of the terms “horse whisperer” and “dog whisperer.”

When professionals interact with their animals, they first work to create a receptive mindset in the animal and then work to correct or shape specific aspects of performance. The behavior of an expert around animals generally demonstrates an economy of action. The movements of the handler are slow and designed to facilitate the animal’s ability to perceive, process and respond appropriately. The handler’s actions are not designed to match or compete with the pace of the dog’s body and mind. Instead, they are focused on directing the dog’s mind in a direction that will help both the dog and the trainer achieve a specific behavioral goal.

a dog trainer walking a red leash at a dog shelter
Learn how to effectively use non-verbal cues to communicate with your dog. (Photo: Susanna Love)

Treatment, by design, should help dogs achieve a healthy, receptive mindset, which in turn will allow the dog to successfully digest new information. The more excited an animal is, the more reactive it is, often in an unhealthy way. A quick thinking dog will react quickly without any thought process. A slow cue, a slower pace when heeling, or a pause to stop will help this excitable dog’s mind shape itself. Alternatively, when a dog is slow to move or react, a little more energy in the handler’s behavior can create enthusiasm and engagement. It’s a constant balancing act that the manager keeps in mind throughout the interaction.

Behavior and Self-Control

Despite the best intentions, a training or management session doesn’t always go according to plan. There are traffic jams on the road and small difficulties or obstacles are sure to appear. For this reason, self-control is essential when working with animals. A trainer’s behavior is often reflected in the animal’s behavior, and a trainer reacting to an animal’s state of mind or a training situation that isn’t going as planned often allows a small issue to turn into a bigger problem. As a general rule, professional handlers are very good at exercising impulse control and can act calmly and understandingly to elicit the desired response from the animal. They don’t overreact when things go wrong. Pro’s instructions are thoughtfully timed and consistently delivered in a measured manner. The professor is not emotional, but thoughtfully aware of what expression or energy is required to successfully shape an animal’s mindset and behavior.

Pro handlers don’t wait to see if the dog will eventually make the right decision about the appropriateness or performance of the behavior. Rather, they consistently cause the behavior to occur in time. For example, if a handler gives a verbal cue once and sees no change in the dog’s body indicating compliance, they immediately apply the verbal cue. When working on the “here” command, the professional will usually say the verbal cue “here” once, and if the dog does not start moving in the correct direction, the handler causes the dog to move in the appropriate direction (ie: using a physical cue on the lead or check cord during training). An example of the opposite approach is a handler who 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 be able to understand what a sign is saying regardless of the circumstances or scenario. (Photo: Susanna Love)

Professional trainers are well aware of the importance of time in shaping behavior. The signal should be given at the moment the action occurs, not three seconds or more after the fact. A sequentially presented sequential type token can be applied in multiple scenarios to generate consistent performance.

Professionals train the behaviors in small, controlled environments before slowly increasing the level of distraction as the dog’s skills increase. The pro will set the dog up for success by taking a series of small steps that increase the challenge of the environment, consistently prompting the desired trained behavior. Handling in the hunting field is generally the dog’s biggest challenge, and the handler can distract to this extent by working with increasingly distracting training environments.

Professional Dog Training Tips

Dog training is difficult to discuss in these broad terms. However, here are some consistent tips that help our clients improve their overall management skills:

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

-Never give an order that you cannot execute in time. Repeated, ineffective commands desensitize the animal to the cue and make the cue less meaningful. If it’s a verbal cue, say it once, kindly and clearly, and then enforce the behavior.

-Directions should be designed to gain the dog’s awareness and therefore compliance. If the dog is too distracted to be aware of the cue, then it’s as if the cue didn’t happen (and from his perspective, it didn’t). Remember that the level of distraction will determine the intensity of the cue.

– Be the leader you want to follow. Be fair, consistent, clear and easy to communicate.

– Create an environment where right is easy and wrong is difficult.

-Have and follow a plan and curriculum so you know how and when to speak. Do not jump back and forth between training styles and formats as this will confuse both the handler and the dog.


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