Tips for training a large dog

Please note – This is a collaborative post and I have not personally devised the training tips.

Obedience training is important for any dog, but even more so with large dogs. The potential risk of a misbehaving dog grows with its size. Nobody wants your Great Dane jumping up at them, and you don’t want your Newfoundland pulling you off your feet by pulling on their lead. 

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Training is essential for large and giant breed dogs, for your and their safety. Life with a lage dog will also be much easier if your dog understands who is boss and is rewarded for playing by the rules. 

Rewards vs punishments

Large dogs can be easy to train and learn to be obedient if you start while they’re young, are consistent, and set clear rules. Giant breeds respond well to positive reinforcement, rather than punishment for bad behaviour. These dogs can be sensitive and have the added risk of deciding to fight back if they take being punished badly. The best defence is prevention. Teach your large dog what behaviour is acceptable rather than fighting their bad habits. 

If you do need to break bad habits, like pulling on a lead, determine what the dog’s perceived reward is for this behaviour and remove it or replace it with something more desirable. An active approach to training and focusing on teaching good behaviours will help you and your dog to get along. 

Giant breeds

Giant breed dogs can pose an obvious problem. They take up more space, and their height lets them reach food on a table or knock things down with their tails. Some large dog owners can feel threatened by the size and strength of their dog, but firm commands will help your dog see who is in charge. Rather than being the pack leader, you need to be the rule setter. You control the rules and the food. Make sure you are consistent so your dog can be a respectful member of the family.

Training tips

Heeling and walking on a lead

Your dog needs to learn to walk and not pull on the lead. Dogs want to pull and chase smaller animals, so you need a better behaviour to reward them for. Use dog collars for large breeds with a sturdy lead so you have more control, and reward your dog when they heel or walk properly. If you need to, tell them to sit, and reward that. You can also try these techniques to help you:

  • Use a non-retractable lead to teach an appropriate walking distance
  • Keep a treat in one hand next to your dog when you go for a walk. If you reward sitting or heeling with this treat, your dog will learn to watch your hand for the treat
  • Use a Gentle Leader as a humane way to stop the dog from pulling help them to learn to walk at your pace. The extra lead pieces go over the dog’s mouth, causing annoyance, but not pain, if they pull. Your dog will soon learn that they need to walk with you to control the muzzle
  • Save their favourite treats for perfect heeling during the walk. Wait to feed your dog until after the walk to make their treats even more enticing

Not jumping up

It might be cute if your Yorkshire Terrier is jumping up to greet visitors, but your Alsatian doing the same could scare or even hurt someone. Instead of getting angry and punishing them, reinforce a different greeting behaviour. Teach the dog to sit when people come to the door, or to sit and shake paws. This will stop them jumping, and show what a polite dog you have, waiting with their paw out to shake with your guest. This can reassure a guest who is wary of your horse-sized dog.

Sit and stay

A sit command can keep you and your dog out of dangerous situations. Make your dog sit and stay while you feed them, and wait until the dog is doing it correctly before you let them go for their food. You can switch up the amount of time you require them to stay to make sure they wait for your command and don’t just learn how long you always ask them to wait. 

These commands are all very useful when you want to groom your dog. Something simple like a bath can be impossible, especially with a big dog, if you haven’t trained them to be obedient to you. 

You and your dog can master these steps and then you can move onto other tricks. Training will keep you and your breakables, and everyone else safe. Dogs aren’t trying to be naughty or cause trouble, but they need love and instruction to help them to stay in line.