How to Start Training Your Dog

Whether you want to train your dog to shake, spin, speak, or sit, the secret is to use shaping and positive reinforcement.


No matter what you want to teach your dog at home, the first thing to figure out is what your dog wants for a reward. Most dogs will do anything for a yummy snack.

Dog training for beginners: If your dog is not food-motivated, your first job is to figure out what motivates and excites him. Maybe it’s a favorite toy he likes to have tossed or tugged with. It might be as simple as excited accolades from you. You must figure this out before trying to teach anything. There must be something in it for them.

Don't Forget to Have Fun!

It’s important to ensure the dog remains engaged and happy and that sessions end on a good note (quit sooner, not later). Practice every day, even if the session is shorter.


-Get impatient, angry, or frustrated

-Force your dog’s behavior

-Reward your dog for the wrong behavior

-Introduce too many tricks at once


-Keep sessions short; 10 minutes or less

-Use rewards that are high value to the dog

-Work in a quiet, distraction-free environment

-Be consistent in what you ask and what you reward

Once you’ve got that figured out, dog training at home starts with teaching the trick a little bit at a time, which is called “shaping.”

Shape the Trick

When teaching dogs tricks, shape the behavior, rather than demand, bribe, force, manipulate, or coax. Shaping behaviors requires patience and plenty of time allotted for your first few sessions. When behaviors are shaped and not forced the behavior becomes your dog’s choice. It makes your dog your partner or teammate in a game, not a servant. Shaping creates an interested, engaged, thinking, interactive, and motivated dog.

So how do you shape a behavior? Basically, you wait until the dog offers on his own something (anything!) resembling what you’re after, and you pay that.

Teaching your dog to shake is a good example of how to shape a behavior. Start by sitting with your dog sitting facing you. Have a treat hidden in your hand. Hold your closed hand toward your dog, palm up. Don’t say anything. Many dogs will naturally paw at the hand to try to get the cookie. If/when he touches your hand with his paw say, “Yes!” and give him the cookie.

Note: Take it off your palm with your other hand and give it to him with your other hand. Don’t just open your “shaking” hand and let him eat it.

Repeat this step until you’re confident he understands what he needs to do to get paid. Then wait a few seconds before rewarding while he keeps his paw on your hand. Gradually increase length of time with paw on your hand before rewarding. Once he fully understands he must keep his paw on your hand (as opposed to pawing or scratching at you) to get paid, you can add the word. To do this, start your regular routine and as he starts bringing his paw toward your hand simply say, “Shake.” This will attach a verbal cue to the desired behavior. Don’t forget to say “yes” and reward as usual for each advancement.

Eventually, you can turn your hand sideways if you prefer, like you would to shake a human’s hand. Once you’ve shaped that added behavior, you can add the up and down motion of a handshake.

You can teach other easy and fun tricks using this shaping method. Remember, teach one trick at a time, keep your sessions short, keep your patience long, and no matter what, you should both have fun!