Sit! Read! These Tips for Training Your Dog at Home Will Save You Money

A dog sits for a treat.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Adopting my dogs has been among the most rewarding decisions of my life, but it hasn’t been without its financial downsides. I’ve faced insane health care costs for a dog who just can’t catch a break, and I’ve at times cut my grocery budget just to buy the specialty food required by my other dog’s sensitive tummy.

In parenting two pooches, I have learned several effective ways to cut costs while enhancing their quality of life. An easy one if you stay determined and patient?

Obedience training at home.

How Much Does Dog Obedience Training Cost?

Obedience training, whether learned at home or in a classroom setting, is crucial to your dog’s behavior, safety and happiness. But going the classroom route can be expensive.

For example, a six-week class at PetSmart for beginners is $119. This class teaches basic commands like “leave it” and “drop it.” It also covers house manners and impulse control exercises.

A second six-week class for intermediate-level dogs will run you another $119. This class reviews what was taught in the first course and adds commands like “heel.”

These courses, and subsequent PetSmart courses at similar price levels, still require commitment from you outside the classroom. That means, when training your dog at home, you must be patient and practice consistently. If you’re uncomfortable training without guidance, these classes are viable options; I have just found them too expensive for something I am confident doing at home.

The Cost of Not Training Your Dog

A dog sits on a busy sidewalk.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Training your dog basic obedience is crucial for a number of reasons. The first and most important: your dog’s safety. By teaching him to come to you or stay on command, you can prevent your dog from running into traffic. By teaching him to drop objects on command, you can keep him from choking or eating something lethal.

Obedience training also establishes you as the leader. This ensures your dog will listen to you and respect you, giving you control in situations where she otherwise could hurt herself, other animals or people.

Finally, obedience training protects your stuff. As we know, dogs can be destructive with chewing and scratching. By practicing simple obedience lessons, you can (hopefully) prevent him from chewing your favorite shoes, tearing up the couch or knocking down a wall — saving you repair and replacement costs of expensive items.

Note: Destructive behavior can happen even in trained dogs and could be a sign of separation anxiety. Consult your veterinarian to discuss behavioral changes and possible medications to reduce the effects of separation anxiety.

Simple Obedience Commands to Train Your Dog

A dog fetches a ball.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder.

If you opt to save money by teaching obedience at home, you must cover a wide range of lessons. I also recommend putting that saved money into a savings account meant for your dog; it’ll come in handy when you encounter unexpected vet bills, invest in a carpet cleaner for messes or purchase your next round of heartworm preventative.

In your lessons, remember this key advice: “Repetition and positive reinforcement go a long way.” That comes from Kathryn Monterosso, long-time foster parent for the Italian Greyhound Club of America Rescue (IGCAR) and the organization’s fundraising coordinator for Central Ohio.

Emma Blackman-Mathis, kennel and facilities manager at the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA), agreed: “SICSA uses primarily positive reinforcement-based training. We want every experience for the animals here to be positive.”

Blackman-Mathis added, “We use praise, treats and trips off-site, as well as specific behavior modification plans, to help guide and support each animal’s individual needs.”

Consistency and socialization are also crucial to encouraging positive behavior. Blackman-Mathis explained SICSA’s proactive plan for obedience: “All of our dogs get a minimum of four walks per day, and most get additional volunteer one-on-one interaction every day.”

She added that they also give dogs supervised “dog-to-dog socialization time in play groups,” which teaches them how to interact with other animals.

I can testify to the strength of SICSA’s methods as someone who has volunteered with the organization and rescued my dog Greyson from the shelter there.

I have outlined simple instructions for the most basic commands below. While the order of these lessons is not crucial, spend a few days mastering each before moving onto the next. You should supplement with additional crate training, potty training and advanced obedience training once you have mastered these basic commands.

Training Your Dog to Sit

“Sit” is often the first command taught to dogs, usually because dogs already do it — just not on cue.

  1. Start with your dog in a standing position and a treat in your hand.
  2. Hold the treat to her nose and slowly bring it above her head. Her eyes will follow you upward, and her butt will naturally lower to the ground.
  3. As soon as her butt hits the floor, say, “Sit,” offer the treat and praise her with lots of petting.

Do this four more times and take a break. With sets of five up to three times a day, your dog should master this by day three. Eventually, cut out the treats and just use petting and praise.

If your dog is not getting it, take a break and hide your frustration.

Insider tip: Greyson is very finicky and was terrified of any floor that wasn’t carpeted when I first rescued him. We first mastered this by practicing on the carpet only, then moved onto grass and finally on hardwood floors and concrete. While he still prefers carpet or a rug, he now sits just about anywhere.

Training Your Dog to Drop It/Leave It

A dog pulls on a thick rope toyy with his jaws.
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Two commands that are important for your dog’s safety, “drop it” teaches your dog to drop something he has picked up, and “leave it” instructs him not to interact with an object to begin with. These are also easy to teach.

To teach drop it:

  1. Collect a few of your dog’s favorite toys and keep some treats in your pocket.
  2. When your dog picks up a toy, lower a treat close to his mouth. The second he lets go of the toy for the treat, say, “Drop it,” and offer him the treat.
  3. Try this four more times. Once he has mastered this, repeat the previous step, except with no treats in your hand. After your dog drops his toy and sees there is no treat in your hand, offer him some treats from your pocket.

Practice this three times a day for a few days. Eventually, try it with a tasty toy, like a Nylabone or Kong treat dispenser; this will be more challenging for your dog but will better mimic real-life situations, like if your dog catches a “tasty” rodent. Like with sit, you will eventually cut out the treats and just use praise and petting.

If your dog is not interested in picking up toys during your chosen training time, keep some treats in your pocket and practice throughout the day as he picks toys up.

To teach leave it:

  1. Show your dog a tasty treat and wait for her to sit.
  2. Place the treat beneath your foot so that your dog cannot reach it. She will excitedly sniff, lick and paw at your foot, but she should not be able to get the treat.
  3. When your dog eventually gives up, say, “Leave it,” and give her a treat from your hand and lots of praise.
  4. If she continues to sniff your foot again, wait until she stops, say, “Leave it,” and reward her once more.
  5. After practicing multiple times beneath the foot, try with a treat in plain sight.

Practice this lesson three times a day for several days until your dog has mastered it. Eventually, you can phase out the reward treats with praise and petting.

Training Your Dog to Come/Stay

Teaching “come” and “stay” will keep your dog safe in the event that you become separated outside of the home. It will also keep your dog where he belongs at feeding time and when guests come over.

To teach come:

  1. Take your dog to an enclosed area, preferably outside in a quiet setting. If possible, have a second person to help.
  2. Take a few steps from your dog and your helper, who should hold your dog back, and say, “Come.” Show a treat as incentive.
  3. When your dog comes to you, praise him and offer the treat.

Repeat this step four more times and take a break. Do this three times a day to master the basic command in just a couple days. Make the task more challenging by walking farther away and by testing it out in more distracting settings, like a park or a noisy house. Eventually, cut out the treats and just use praise and petting.

To teach stay:

  1. Ask your dog to sit and praise her for doing so.
  2. Hold up your hand to her, palm out, and say, “Stay.”
  3. If she holds her position for a few seconds, reward her with a treat.
  4. Try again, but take a few steps back this time.

Repeat this four more times and then take a break. You can do this up to three times a day and should master the skill in a few days. To make it more challenging, eventually walk far away, disappear around a corner and/or introduce loud distractions.

Once you have mastered these basic commands, continue to practice them in more challenging and varied ways. Introduce other important commands such as “heel,” “down” and “eliminate,” and consider fun tricks for mental stimulation, like “shake hands” and “play dead.”

There’s no shortage of commands you can teach dogs. Monterosso told me her rescue Sachie learned to dance from watching other dogs. “I’m also trying to teach her to smile on command, but for now she only does it when I have french fries.”

If you are skipping formal training, be thorough with your DIY obedience training. Also consider the following linked resources, which are helpful for potty training and crate training.

Timothy Moore is a proud doggy daddy to two rescues — Greyson and Clyde. When he is not cleaning out Greyson’s ears or playing tug-of-war with Clyde, Timothy is usually reading, writing, editing or drinking a beer.