General Training Tips: What to Know Going In

A few quick general training tips

  • Keep Training Fun & Positive. Training dogs to do tricks is hard for both you and your pup! Be sure to keep training sessions fun and positive. Training should be fun, so don’t punish your dog for making a mistake. If you start getting frustrated, you can always end your session early and go play tug, fetch, or just cuddle
  • Keep Training Sessions Short. Your dog’s brain gets tired easily, so keep training sessions short – around 5-10 minutes. Sometimes, we’ll even keep them shorter! After your training sessions, play a game, go for a walk, or just let your dog rest.

Pro Training Tip: I do training sessions between other activities. I’ll block off an hour of “dog time” and play games, cuddle, and train in 5-10 minute repetitions.

  • End On A High Note. Dogs can get frustrated just like humans, so if your dog is struggling or even regressing, try lowering your expectations. Give your dog a few “easy wins” before pushing him again, and always try to end on a win. If you’re trying to teach your dog to say “I love you” and not making progress, try going back to the good last step. If you move too fast, you’ll leave your dog behind!

Another option: when my dog gets frustrated, I’ll just cue her for “sit,” “down,” or “shake.” She gets a treats and feels less frustrated. Then we can start again!

  • Use Simple Steps. If your dog is struggling, figure out ways to make the behavior easier, so you can give your dog more of those “wins” mentioned above. If you can break the behavior down into smaller steps, do it. Write down every muscle movement that has to happen for your dog to complete her task. Each of those is a potential step!

Along these lines, think of behaviors in increasing complexity. Teaching a dog to speak on cue is elementary. Teaching your dog to say “I love you” is high school. Having your dog to say “I love you” to a stranger in a distracting, scary environment is graduate school! You wouldn’t expect a six-year-old to score a perfect SAT, so don’t expect your dog to do the equivalent.

Before we get started on how to teach this trick to your pooch, check out this video of the incredible talking Husky Misha perform this feat of articulation!

Teaching Your Dog to Say “I Love You”

This is a complicated behavior that will take a while to perfect. Unless you’re a savvy trainer with a super-vocal dog, expect this trick to take weeks or even months to master. Even then, be patient!

Keep in mind that each step is important. Each of these steps is also key to any good dog training – so take the time to master them! Using these same skills, you’ll be able to teach your dog all sorts of tricks.

Step 1: Charging The Clicker

The first step on your training adventure begins with charging the clicker. This step is important because right now, your dog doesn’t know what the clicker signifies. You’ll need to teach her that the “click” sound means that she’s about to get a treat! Trainers call this “charging” the clicker because it’s like charging your phone – you’re getting it ready for use!

Sit in a quiet place with your dog and click the clicker. Then give your dog a treat. Do this over and over again. Soon, the click will predict a treat to your dog, the same way Pavlov’s bellpredicted food for his dogs.

Once your dog knows that the clicker means, “Good dog, now you’re getting a treat,” you’re in business! You can use a clicker to train your dog to do almost anything, so feel free to experiment with it. Just remember that the click is a promise to reward the dog for her hard work. Don’t forget to give her the paycheck (treats)!

Step 2: Capture The Behavior

Now you’ll need to learn how to capture a behavior. Think of capturing a behavior as trying to catch a moment in your dog’s behavior that you like. When you see your dog do a good thing, you can click and treat for the behavior. This tells your pup, “Hey! I liked that! Do it again!”

Capturing behaviors is a great way to teach your dog to do all sorts of cute things on cue. It’s like seeing your spouse doing the dishes and wordlessly giving them a kiss. You didn’t ask them to do it, but you’re giving them a reward for doing it. Hopefully, this will make your spouse do the dishes more often!

You can do this with any number of behaviors – standing on hind legs, spinning in a circle, placing a head on your lap! Check out the classic 100 things to do with a box game to really get good at it.

In this instance, we’ll be using this technique to capture a vocalization. If your dog is naturally vocal, this is easy. If not, there’s probably something you do that makes your dog make noise. Either way, when your dog vocalizes, click the clicker and give your dog a treat. Do this over and over until your dog is making lots of noise for you, and getting paid well for it!

Keep in mind that your end goal is teaching your dog to say “I love you,” so capture the sound that is closest to this. A short, sharp bark won’t transfer easily into “I love you.” Aim for something like the sound dogs make when they yawn, or even a play growl. A sound that’s more drawn-out and varied is best!

Step 3: Shape The Behavior

Next, you can start to shape the behavior. Shaping a behavior means taking something that’s not quite what you want, and helping your dog get closer to the final end goal – in this case, saying those magic “I love you” words.

Remember, your dog doesn’t know that “I love you” means anything different than “wago wambo” or “your butt is so fluffy,” so you really need to guide her towards certain vocalization structures.

Now that you’re stepping it up and shaping the behavior, it’s time to get more stingy with those training treats. If your dog has been yowling and receiving treats, now you’ll want to start only click and treating when your dog “offers” a two- or three-syllable yowl. Your dog only gets paid for his best work.

Any time your dog makes a vocalization that sounds closer to “I love you” than the last, pay him for that one! If he just barks, he doesn’t get paid for this trick. This step may take days or even weeks.

Pro Training Tip: Not working? Try experimenting with making the “I love you” sound back at him, to see if he’s able to mimic you. This may work for some dogs but not others.

Step 4: Selecting A Cue

If all goes well, you’ve now captured a behavior and shaped it into a sound that’s close enough to “I love you.” Patience is key here! But if you were paying attention, you probably noticed that we haven’t taught your pup a cue yet. In other words, so far we haven’t attached a word to the behavior.

This isn’t an accident. You can start cueing the behavior as you’re shaping it, or you can just wait until the behavior is closer to what you want. This is an example of how fluid training protocol can be!

Before you start introducing a cue (either before, during, or after the shaping process), you must pick a cue. Something like “Do you love me?” is cute, but go ahead and be creative! Whatever you pick, be sure to stick with it and be consistent.


Step 5: Attaching The Behavior to a Cue

Attaching the behavior to a cue can be done before, after, or even during shaping. Once you’ve picked a cue, start introducing it just before your dog vocalizes. Now you’ll only “pay” him for speaking after you’ve asked him to speak. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a dog barking all the time at everything, and expecting treats for it!

As you gain experience, you’ll get a better idea of when adding the cue works for you. Personally, I like to add cues in the middle of shaping a behavior. I try to start shaping the behavior towards what I want, but like to add a cue before it’s a finished product. This makes it easier to start and end training sessions, because my dog learns that he only should vocalize if I’ve asked for it, not just all the time.

When your dog is about to bark, cue him with “Do you love me?” or any other word or phrase you’d like to use. He’ll vocalize, and you click and give him a treat. Do this over and over!


What if My Dog Doesn’t Yowl?

If you’ve got a quiet dog, this particular trick may be nearly impossible. For example, my childhood Labrador hardly ever barked or made any sound at all – I’m not sure I could ever have taught him this trick.

For a similarly cute behavior that’s easier for quiet dogs, instead you could train your dog to “give kisses” on cue.

Using the same steps of (1) capturing the behavior, (2) shaping the behavior, and (3) cueing the behavior, you can train your dog to lick or nuzzle you on command – equally cute! Instead of “capturing” a vocalization, just “capture” a lick or nuzzle with a click and a treat. You’re on your way to an equally cute, but much quieter, trick!

How does your dog say “I love you?” Share your stories, tips, and tricks in the comments!



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