- How dogs learn: A dog’s behavior is influenced by the result it produces. In other words, dogs do what works for dogs. If a dog’s behavior produces a positive result, that behavior will increase. If, on the other hand, the behavior produces a negative result or no result at all, the behavior will decrease. Keep in mind that we must view positive and negative from the dog’s perspective. For example – we may think that hugging and touching is rewarding, but your dog may find this annoying. We can use this information to evaluate what is rewarding to our dogs and then use these rewards for training. Your job is to figure out what your dog finds rewarding. Examples of rewards include food, toys, play, attention, or walks.
- Use of treats: Food rewards are almost universally rewarding for dogs. Food is also a good way to entice certain behaviors from a dog so they can then be rewarded. However, nobody wants a dog that will only work for food. When training with treats it is important to wean dogs off of them once the dog is performing reliably. To do this we put the dog on a random reinforcement schedule. This simply means that the dog is not rewarded with food every time it performs a behavior. For example, use the following random reinforcement schedule, 1/3/6/8,9,10/13/15, as times your dog receives a treat and in between your dog is rewarded with something else (toy, belly rub, etc.). Your dog should always receive verbal praise from you whether you give a treat or not.
- The 3D’s of training: These represent Duration (time), Distance and Distractions. Your goal in training any behavior should be to get your dog to perform for a longer period of time, with you farther away, and surrounded by distractions. However, it is important that you choose to raise only 1 criterion at a time in order for your dog to be successful. First, ask your dog to perform for a longer period of time. Next, ask your dog to perform with you farther away. Finally, ask your dog to perform in the presence of distractions. Only when your dog is doing well with each of these individually, should you begin to combine them. It is important during the learning stage of any behavior to set your dog up to succeed by not asking for too much too fast.
- Be consistent: When training your dog it is important for everyone in the family to be using the same training techniques and following the same rules. It is not fair to the dog if one person allows the dog on the furniture while another punishes the dog for getting on the couch. Use the same commands every time and for the same behavior, does “down” mean lie down or get down off of something? Try to only issue your commands once, don’t chatter sit sit sit sit sit sit at your dog. You want your dog to learn to do behaviors the first time you ask.
Practice: Your dog will not learn anything if you only come to class once a week and don’t practice at home. Homework and summary sheets are given out at the end of each class for you to refer to at home. Remember, dog training is an investment in the future relationship you will have with your dog!