Humans and dogs are generally happier when there is clear communication about what is expected in terms of behavior. The more a dog does something, the better they get at it. This applies to both good and bad behavior.
Be proactive with training rather than reactive. The onus is on you to teach the dog what you want it to do.
Focus on what it is that you DO want the dog to do, rather than what you don’t want the dog to do. By approaching training this way, we actually teach the dog the behavior we would like rather than relying on punishing the behavior we don’t like.
Example: don’t simply wait for your dog to jump all over house guests. You have so many options to use positive reinforcement to keep a dog from jumping on people. You could have guests toss treats on the ground (a dog who has his nose to the ground can’t jump!), you could work on a solid sit-stay and impulse control, teach the dog “off!”, you could teach the dog a reliable “go to your mat” cue when guests arrive – the sky is the limit.
Reinforce the behavior(s) that you do want. Make it worth the dog’s while to work with you because they WANT to, not because they are afraid of what happens if they don’t. By training in a way that makes it worth the dog’s while, you strengthen your relationship and build trust.
Example: you want a dog that sits and either waits or stays at crosswalks/intersections. To achieve this, you will need to practice it! Make a mental note to yourself to have your dog stop and sit at all crosswalks and intersections. Not only do you practice “sit” in different locations, you also build up reliability with your wait or stay because it will be a big habit and part of your routine.
Location/context do matter. Do location and context matter in dog training? The answer is a resounding HELL YES! You may have taught that dog to sit like a contestant at an obedience show in your living room, but out in the world with the leash on can be a whole different story. It is a different context for the dog, and this is important for humans to understand – dogs don’t generalize well.
Example: let’s say you can get a 10-second “watch me” in your backyard. This does not mean you will get that while out for a walk with your dog without training for it. The distractions will be greater, so always consider location and context when taking the show on the road.
Redirect the behavior(s) you don’t want. When there is something your dog does that you don’t like or want it to do, think about what you DO want the dog to do instead. You can stop just about any behavior, but it is far more effective to train behavior(s) you do want rather than relying on constant corrections.
Example: you have a puppy that is mouthing. Have toys, bones, or chews on hand to redirect the mouthing to appropriate objects. Puppies don’t know innately that we don’t want to be mouthed and teething is a natural process. Don’t rely on punishing a puppy for mouthing with snout grabs, snout thumping or anything else along those lines. Not only will that puppy begin to distrust you, but you will also actually invite more mouthing because the puppy WILL associate hands coming toward it with pain.
Regress when necessary. Regress, regress, regress. If the dog keeps getting it wrong, it is likely you want too far, too fast. It is incredible how well you can set a situation up so that the dog succeeds. As my fellow trainer and friend Mel Wilson said, “Success builds confidence, and confidence builds success”. This goes for BOTH the human and the dog.
Secret training tip: Train with the leash on in the house, garage and/or in the yard. This makes the transition of training good behavior while out for a walk easier for both of you. You are also training yourself for working with the dog while you have a leash in your hand.
©Kate Godfrey, 2019 Comprehensive Canine Training