Training Your Dog
With Christmas comes the gift of puppies. Along with puppies comes training to eventually turn your puppy into a well-disciplined dog. How are you going to train that new puppy of yours? Are you going to hire a professional? Are you going to buy a book on training dogs in general, or training methods for your dog’s breed?
If you’re going to hire a professional trainer, ask for the methods he uses to train dogs. Also ask for references. If he can’t provide those simple requests, or you don’t approve of the training methods, move on to the next trainer on your list. Keep looking until you find a trainer that satisfies your idea of a quality trainer.
If you want to train your dog use positive reinforcement. It’s the same as when your parents told you if you behaved at the doctor’s office you could have ice cream on the way home. You behaved – you received the ice cream. Positive reinforcement sounds easy, but there are simple rules to follow in order for it to work.
You have to be punctual in rewarding the dog. If you take longer than a few seconds to reward the dog, it is out of his mind. For example, you bring your dog to the position of heel. Now while you fumble for his doggie treat, he gets up and starts to walk around. You give him the treat he earned for heeling, but he has left the position of heel. In the dog’s mind, what behavior did you reward – the heeling or the wandering?
Remember when giving commands to your dog you are not dealing with a Rhodes Scholar. You are dealing with a brain that is the equivalent of a small child. Dogs do not understand sentences. If you want your dog to fetch a ball give the command “Fetch!” The dog will not understand, “I threw the ball in the backyard. It is over by the tree.” One word commands, such as sit, come, heel and down are simple and universal.
The positive training must be practiced by the entire family, otherwise the dog won’t understand what is being said or the behavior desired. All family members must know that they are only to reward the positive behavior and never reward negative behavior.
One positive behavior can help lead to other positive behaviors. Suppose you want to take your dog for a walk, but when you get his leash, he jumps on you. By giving the command “sit!” you can easily connect his leash to the collar. By sitting and waiting for his leash, it keeps him from running out of the house ahead of you or jumping on other people in the room. The reward for this behavior can be as simple as petting him and telling him that he is a good dog.
Something to be remembered when training your dog is what the trainers call shaping. You want your dog to learn a particular behavior. He performs the desired behavior imperfectly, but close to what you are looking for. You reward him and continue practicing and rewarding until he develops the requested behavior.
What should you use for doggie rewards? It should be something that you know your dog enjoys. If the reward is food, it should be very small and soft. Long periods of chewing hard biscuits will make a mess and your dog will spend time cleaning up the floor rather than training. Purchase a small treat bag that you can carry the treats in so you can dispense them quickly. (We have these treat bags available at 805 Emporium along with all your puppy needs – collars, leashes and beds.) Your tone of voice can assist you in training. When the dog performs properly, let him know you are pleased with a positive “Yes!” or “Good dog!”
Food is not the only positive reinforcement. It can be a ball or a favorite toy the dog plays with. Many canine handlers reward their search dogs with a rolled up towel that the dog can play with after finding contraband. No matter what the reward is, always add to it praise for doing the desired behavior.
Eventually your dog will learn to properly perform many of the behaviors you desire. As he learns, stop giving treats every time. Always praise the positive behavior, but decrease the treats as time and learning goes on. Don’t be too quick to take away the rewards. Eventually you and your dog will work with verbal praise and an occasional tasty treat.