Training doesn’t have to be trying. We asked experts what works, what just makes bad behavior worse, and which tools you need to make the process easier.

By June DeMelo
August 22, 2019
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Stay Positive

Most professionals believe that rewarding your pet when he behaves well, aka positive reinforcement, is the best way to train. Food is usually the most effective reward, though some pets prefer playtime, affection, praise, or access to a favorite toy or the outdoors. Kibble can work for very food-motivated pets, but others may need higher-value treats. Just reduce portions a bit at mealtime to balance out your pet’s total food intake.

Structure Your Sessions

Whatever behavior you’re trying to teach, start small and go slowly. To train your dog to come when called, practice with a short leash somewhere free from distractions (not in an off-leash dog park). To work up to trimming your cat’s nails, begin by rewarding her just for letting you touch her paw. Sessions can be as short as 30 seconds or as long as 20 minutes; most pets can’t pay attention longer than that. Wrap up before your pet gets frustrated or loses focus. If she does, switch to a trick she knows well to end on a positive note.

Ignore Undesired Behavior

Scolding can backfire, so give the cold shoulder. If your dog jumps on you, don’t pet him until all paws are on the floor. Does your cat yowl to be fed at 4 a.m.? Ignoring her teaches her to wait for breakfast. (If a behavior seems sudden or out of character, see a vet.) Prevent unwanted behavior when possible: Don’t leave food within reach; use double-stick tape to deter sofa scratching. If that fails, interrupt your pet with a loud but nonscary sound, then redirect her toward a positive activity.

Our Experts

Mikkel Becker, lead animal trainer at Fear Free Pets in Spokane, Washington
Michael Shikashio, dog behavior consultant and owner of Complete Canines
Krista Sirois, DVM, resident in clinical behavioral medicine at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach, Florida

The Tools

Treat Tote

Keep treats accessible but out of sight with this pouch, which has waterproof lining, a one-handed magnetic closure, and an adjustable belt.

To buy: Ruffwear Treat Trader Bag, $30;

Perfect-Timing Tool

To reinforce good behavior, click within a second after it happens, then immediately offer a reward. This helps your pet pinpoint what you want him to do.

To buy: PetSafe Clik-R Pet Clicker, $4;

Control Mechanism

A front attachment for the leash makes it easier to control your pup without hurting his neck.

To buy: 2 Hounds Design Freedom No-Pull Harness, $38;