Set Your Dog Up for Success

Adult dogs have emotional and cognitive developments that are similar to human toddlers, that’s according to Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a renown Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB). Given this line of thought, I want you to really think about what the appropriate way would be to train a dog.

If a dog is like a human toddler in terms of cognitive and emotional abilities/understanding, would it be acceptable to place a shock, prong, or choke collar on it in the name of training? Would it be appropriate to use force, fear, or pain on a toddler? These things simply are not necessary to train your dog.

Some people have been told they need these tools to train their dog (or even to just have control), but if that’s the case, something has gone awry. Your dog then may not behave when not wearing these things, without you having to change your tone, and without you having to use intimidation. If you’re relying on aversive equipment and strategies to have your dog behave, I’m here to tell you there’s a better (more fun) way! Dogs are smart. Truly teach your dog what you’d like her to do instead.

ENTER FORCE-FREE, POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT TRAINING!

This training is quick, simple, and e ective— without doing any physical or psychological harm to the dog. It’s far easier to work with the animal than to fight it with a “do this or else” attitude.

Obviously, dogs aren’t born trained, so it’s up to us to teach them how we would like them to behave.

So many dog behaviors that we humans find rude and inappropriate are fine in the dog world. We’ve brought a different species to live in our homes and share our lives with us. We can make it fun and worth their while to do as we ask.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to carry treats or other rewards around for the rest of your life—who needs a chubby, treat-dependent dog? You can teach the dog what you want utilizing rewards, then quickly fade the reward when the dog gets it and instead o er praise. Training should be about creating a line of communication between you and your dog. Think of it as giving your dog a language.

GETTING STARTED

With this type of training, you need to determine what it is that your dog finds rewarding. Some dogs find food to be the best reward, others prefer a game of tug or fetch, and still, others love praise and physical correction. The dog determines what is rewarding—it’s up to you to find out what it is and use this to your advantage.

Another important part of this type of training is to have a reward marker. A reward marker simply lets the dog know that it gave the correct response to a cue. Two good examples of a reward marker would be a verbal “Yes!” or a click from a clicker. You also want to use praise to let the dog know he did a great job and to keep going with the behavior.

Having a no-reward marker is just as important as a reward marker. A no-reward marker can be something like “Ah-Ah!” or whatever you will consistently use to let the dog know that he did not get it right/did not make the right choice and to try again. You only give a no-reward marker if the dog does not perform a known cue or if he is about to make a bad choice when you have trained him to do otherwise. You should always follow up a no-reward marker by asking the dog for something he knows and will be able to do in that situation.

There are other important aspects of positive reinforcement training, but I am only going to address a few more—consistency, timing, and practice—each is of equal importance. You must be consistent with both your training and expectations for your dog’s behavior. The timing of when to give a cue, hand signal, reward marker, and reward needs to be very good. Your timing may lag when you start but you will get better at it! It’s like a muscle that just needs to be built up. Last, but certainly not least, is practice. You must practice with your dog if you want training to stick. You can stop a dog from doing virtually any behavior, but taking the time to teach and reinforce the dog for the behavior that you do want will give you a way to “talk” with your dog. With positive reinforcement training, you’re taking an active part in the training process without doing any harm to the dog.

Training that relies on corrections misses a major opportunity to learn from and bond with your dog, not to mention that it usually takes longer, has unintended consequences, and can be damaging physically and psychologically to the dog. Training should be fair and set the dog up to succeed. By making training fun, the dog becomes a willing partner. If you are having fun, your dog is going to have fun and vice versa. Our dog’s lives are too short, why not spend them training and maintaining behavior in a way that is fun and rewarding for both of you!

Kate Godfrey, featured in the August/Septmeber 2018 SUNNY Issue of Unleash Jax