How to train your dog effectively

1.  If you learn the following two rules of learning, you are well on your way:

1 a)  Ever organism (human, any domesticated or wild animal …) learn by the immediate — not delayed — consequences of their behavior.

A consequence good or bad, must immediately follow a behaviour for it to be associated with that behaviour. You might still be focused on the behaviour (even a few) seconds afterwards, but your dog has mentally moved onto something else, therefore TIMING is everything when it comes to providing consequences for behaviours.

1 b) Behaviors that meet with rewarding consequences will happen more often.

If a behaviour gets the dog what he wanted, it’s  just natural that he will do that behaviour again and again.  Why then does he keep on jumping up on you, even when you shout at him or push him off ? Because he is getting some form of attention and interaction from you. He won’t keep jumping up, if jumping up leads to no attention.

2.  Use valued resources like food, toys, play, walks and petting as a consequence for good behaviour.

This is not meant to be boot-camp or the well known ‘Nothing in Life is Free’ program, which is often implemented incorrectly anyway. (But that’s a topic for another discussion.) We don’t always ask “please” when we want something, do we? A lot has to do with HOW we ask for things. If a child says “GIMME the salt” vs. “pass the salt” it will lead to two different reactions from a parent. If the salt is passed on, on the “GIMME”, you’ve just reward rude behaviour, if not passed on, then rude behaviour has a negative consequence – no salt. Likewise if your dog is jumping up, pushing between you and the door and barking at you to open the door because it’s ‘walkies’ time – and you open the door, you have just rewarded his wild behaviour & the next time it’s ‘walkies’ time, the same will happen.

3.  In every moment of life, learning happens . Always ask yourself – what am I teaching my dog in this moment ?

I know, it’s very difficult to stay consistent every time we interact with our dogs – we get busy, we are always rushing, things need to be done and it causes us to be not so mindful of our interactions with our dogs. But we’ve got to make a point of trying and become more conscious of our interaction. When WE slip up – we can’t blame it on the dog. If ever you feel you want to cut corners, always ask yourself – what will this teach him?

4.  Learn to set your dog up for success and prevent mistakes.

We don’t expect young adults to learn how to drive in peak traffic – that would just be disastrous, so why do we expect so much so soon when we train our dogs. If your dog is not successful, take a step back and think how you can chunk the behaviour down in more rewardable steps, after all, most of the time you are teaching him something that YOU would like him to do & he, as a dog, could probably care less about. If he is not coming when called at home, he sure is not going to come when you call him in the park. Find smaller recall goals to reward and steadily increase your level of difficulty. Success breeds success.

5.  Find a positive trainer.

Invest some time in finding a trainer that understands behaviour and that uses positive training techniques.  Taking aversive short cuts lead to problematic behaviours down to road.

6.  Don’t ever be afraid to ask advice for fear of sounding silly.

That’s what we’re here for – it’s what we love to do. There is no such thing as a silly question – if you don’t ask – you won’t know.  Chances are, there are other people that also wanted to know the answer to your question, but did not have the courage to ask.

7.  Learn to say ‘No’ – if you feel your dog is treated unjust or in an unsafe manner.

This is difficult for most people but we must learn to say ‘no’ and be our dog’s voice. Just because a trainer does something does not always make it right – if you feel uncomfortable about how any person handles your dog, you have the right to stop it. If you are asked to provide your dog as a demo – it is your right to ask what it will entail.

8.  Don’t just take advice at face-value – ask “why?”

Sometimes I hear the most bizarre advice that is given to people. And when I inquire as to why this particular advice has been given to the owner, the person has no idea – the trainer did not tell them. If it’s not explained to you why something is advised, you’ve got to ask. Does it feel right to you? If not, no harm done in getting a second opinion.

9.  Training should be fun

When training is done in a fun way, both of you are going to enjoy it. When something becomes a chore, our enthusiasm dwindles. When we have fun, our mood state lightens, which makes for easier learning. Even the more serious stuff like “recalls” can be done in a fun way, long gone are the days that we have to train our dogs in a militaristic way.

10.  It is far more efficient to teach a dog to do a desirable behaviour than it is to teach him to stop doing an undesirable behaviour.

Can you teach a dog to stop jumping up on visitors? Technically, no. You cannot teach a dog NOT to do a behaviour. You can only teach him what you WANT him to do & at the same time make the unwanted behaviour (jumping up) less rewarding than the new behaviour you are teaching. Jumping up on visitors will only cease if you teach him the only why he gets to greet the visitors is if he has four paws on the floor & that any jumping behaviour will be ignored – thus not rewarded.

© Claire Grobbelaar