Owning an obedient, well-behaved dog makes for a relaxed relationship between dog and owner. Knowing your dog will reliably recall gives you confidence to give them freedom, but also safeguards the public from unwanted doggy attention. Getting there can be challenging – requiring patience, devotion and hard work.
Follow these simple points, and the experience will be smoother and more effective.
Make sure you train regularly
Most of us readily teach basic obedience to our dogs when we first get them, but it’s all too easy to allow the dog to go on ‘auto-pilot’ once it’s settled in. That’s why it’s vital to establish a planned, regular training programme, and do this often. This way it will become embedded into your dog’s memory and establish a good behaviour pattern. If you’re not sufficiently disciplined to provide regular training your dogs then training will be lost completely.
As well as structured training sessions, keep your dog sharp by working it spontaneously several times each day. Saying “sit” for dinner, “wait” at doors, and “down” when they’re greeting your friends for example. Then, each month, teach a new command – a trick will do – to keep your dog’s mind and motivation up. The larger your pet’s repertoire, the smarter it will get, and the more respect you’ll receive.
Don’t let your training sessions run too long
Teaching new commands to a dog is a process of evolution, not revolution. The key is knowing that it’s usually going to take numerous step-wise sessions to build a new behaviour.
Don’t overdo this though as your dog will become fatigued or get ‘brain overload’. A couple of twenty-minute daily sessions are ample to get your dog into the routine and stay enthusiastic.
Time spent during the training session should generate positive results, so when you attain success – reward immediately, and then quit. Don’t carry on and on, as you’ll bore the dog, and actually condition it to become disinterested in the new training. Likewise, don’t end a session until some evidence of success is shown, even if it’s a moment of focus or positive attempt by your dog whilst trying to learn.
Inconsistency will lead to confusion and frustration for both of you. For example, it’s no use allowing your dog to jump up at you when it’s pleased to greet you, then scolding it for doing the same when you are dressed up to go out somewhere special. Define the rules, and then stick to them.
Ensure the whole family is in agreement regarding keeping your dog off the furniture or beds, so you don’t encounter the situation where one person allows this and others don’t. Your dog doesn’t know when you are dressed up, and when it can and can’t jump on you. It will naturally have difficulty understanding it can only get in the bed or on the sofa when “Dad” is out of the room.
The same applies to your mood. For instance, if one day you stay patient with a stubborn dog, but the next day become angry, it won’t be able to predict how you’ll react at any given moment. This causes confusion, and breaks confidence and trust. Instead, stick to a consistent methodology, and be unswerving regarding what is acceptable behaviour.
Don’t rely too much on treats
Treats are a great way to initiate new behaviours, particularly with a puppy or in the early stages of training, as they begin to understand that following a command will lead to a reward. However, liberal use of treats can often work against you.
There can be such a fixation of food in your dog’s mind that the desired behaviour becomes compromised, because its attention is focused on the food and not the trainer.
There is also the issue of your dog’s diet and weight to consider.
You’ll rarely see hunting or law enforcement dogs being offered food rewards during their training or job. It would break focus and interfere with actual performance. Instead, other techniques are found including praise, and perhaps brief play with a favourite toy. Reward for these dogs comes from the joy of the job itself.
Be proactive, not reactive
When you simply react to your dog’s misbehaviour, you lose the opportunity to teach. Instead, look for naturally occurring good behavior to reward. Anticipate your dog’s behaviour, and if appropriate, reward it.
For example, gently reward your dog when it’s calm and quiet. If you are trying to quell a nuisance barking, instead of waiting for the barks to start, catch your dog right before his brain says “bark”, and distract it into a different, more acceptable behavior such as a well rehearsed trick.
Know that whatever stimulus is causing the barking needs to be either eliminated or redefined as a “good thing” in the dog’s head. This takes experience and a proactive role on your part.
Finally, don’t lose your temper
Negative emotion can put the brakes on your dog’s ability to learn, and shouting and scolding can scare it into associating training with punishment. When you train with force or irritation, you will intimidate your dog and turn training sessions into uncomfortable encounters.
Be calm, confident and reassuring – but by all means show firm authority to make your point, and stay in control. If your dog doesn’t do the command right, instead of getting annoyed, back off, take a deep breath and try again with a smile and encouraging body language.