Have your recently adopted a puppy? Is this your first dog, or have you decided that this is going to be the dog that you train better than all the others you have had in your life? Or are you like me, and making the commitment to really “crack down” on your much loved, but equally very spoiled dog, that has trained you to give treats on demand? If so, there are several resources that you can refer to, and tips on how to start down the path of training. This is a quick start guide…
I find it helpful to have realistic expectations. What are they truly capable of learning, and not learning? If you think you will get your golden retriever to go out and start your car for you on cold winter mornings, you are delusional. But you may be able to train them to get the morning paper at the end of the driveway. There is a growing field of dog psychologists trying to discover what and how dogs think. Consider checking out Dr. Brian Hare’s website, www.Dognition.com. It is there that he uses a series of games to profile dogs based on their intelligence. I will talk in more detail in the next blog about how they learn and comprehend. For now, though, you need to get started on the basics.
And, you don’t really need to determine your dog’s IQ to set some basic behavior guidelines in your home. With puppies, I often compare them to human babies, who need consistency, as opposed to mixed messages, to learn. If you make it simple, and everyone in the home is using the same commands, hand signals, and cues, your dog will learn much quicker. A helpful example is to imagine how hard it would be to learn to drive if one day a stop sign meant “stop”, and the next day it meant “go”? You would be pretty confused, and learning to drive would be significantly more difficult. The same goes for your pets. If one day you allow your dog to lay on the couch, and the next day scold him for it, he will only be baffled, and saddened by your disappointment.
This goes for cats, by the way. They can be trained as well. But, back to dogs..
So, consistency means every day, EVERY time. If your dog is allowed to jump on you when you get home from work, in his mind, he assumes that he should be allowed to greet visitors in the same way. And can you blame him? Communicating the same messages in the same way to your pet is important. The word “down” might mean “lay down”, or “stop jumping up” to you. But your dog doesn’t understand that they may mean the same thing, and shouldn’t be expected to. Settle on one concrete, succinct command and go with it.
Obedience classes are great. I prefer them to home training (exclusively), but if your entire family cannot attend classes, follow-up sessions at home can be very valuable. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, using the same methods and commands. I recommend obedience classes, with other dogs, to serve as distractions to training. Thus, they are used to listening to you with other animals present, as opposed to training alone at home. What you don’t want is that you head to the park, and he ignores everything you taught him in the comfort of your living room, once he sees a squirrel or another dog. Typically classes are offered in schools or stores (such as Petsmart), or are affiliated with trainers, kennels, or your local veterinarian. Most require the puppy to be vaccinated prior, and at least with the rabies vaccine.
And, remember, in dog training, as in life, nothing is free. Continually find ways to reinforce your dog when he does the things you want him to do. So, make him work for you when he wants something. It is like saying “please”, and will greatly help you create a well-mannered, polite family companion. Try waiting for him to sit calmly before being pet, fed, having his leash put on, etc. He should not demand affection, food, etc, but instead will learn that when he behaves a certain way, all the great rewards will follow.
If he does, for example, stand politely behind you while you walk through a door before him, show him he acted correctly thereafter by allowing him to bound through the door and go on his walk.
You may also consider a “rewards system or currency” to reinforce good behavior and aid in training.
Doing” sit” at home without distractions might earn a pat on the head.
A 30 second “sit-stay” might earn a piece of kibble.
Holding a “sit-stay” at the park might earn a dog biscuit.
Heeling quietly past another dog on a walk could get him a small toy, or at least a great big hug.
Working well in class around other dogs might earn a special meaty/liver treat ( you know, the one he “really” loves)
Performing “leave it”, instead of eating a tempting “sidewalk snack” could get him a piece of cheese.
Stopping mid-chase after a squirrel and coming back to you could get him a Kong toy filled with peanut butter.
You get the point. The rewards escalate with value of the behavior learned.
Lastly, there are some apps that might help you along your training journey.
Www.petcoach.co connects you to verified veterinarians, trainers and pet experts. They are available to answer questions around the clock. You can also ask about health, nutrition, and other topics on their PetCoach Forum, and the answers are free of charge. You can also set up a profile on the app, with a “for purchase” consultation option via text, phone or video call.
And I always say, that dogs don’t necessarily need to be highly intelligent to be trained well. More importantly, they need to be motivated to please you. That, combined with consistency on your end, and some good rewards, and you should be well on your way to having a happy dog home.