The first thing you should know is dog training is a process. There are many steps, and if you don't step off on the right foot in the first place, you will make your self a lot of unnecessary work later or just give up in frustration at a point where you could have excelled. This blog seeks to give you some insights to understand the bones of the process in hopes that when you start training you will continue on to a very enjoyable life for you and your dog with a fabulous working relationship.
- Normal Dog Behavior is not always helpful: Before you start your dog training, know that your dog is probably displaying normal behaviors that are not super helpful to you. So don't treat your dog like they are being abnormal, when they simply have not had effective training in the first place. As an example, it is normal for a puppy to find a far away place inside your house to poop and pee. For all they know this is outside, as it is not in use as a living area at the moment. Also, dogs bark to alert or warn. This is normal, although we don't like to hear it for long stretches at a time. Both of these behavioral norms can be improved to our benefit.
- Consistency: Time that you put into training, body language and cues used in training, tone of voice for the goal, reaching the goal, and reasonable expectations all need consistency. Dogs do not understand the English language or humans entirely. Our domestic situation is not one they have been born to understand. Therefore consistency is the way to be as clear as you can in ways the dog understands so then you can move that understanding to a verbal cue or hand signal.
- Tone of Voice and Contrast: Much as we all learn to understand what the tone in our dog's bark or growl means, dog's learn what the tone in our voice means. We all use a certain tone when we are pleased or angry or in normal conversation. There is no cookie cutter or perfectly correct way of using tone. I am always thinking of the goal I am working on in that moment, the end goal, and the dog I am working with. For some exercises, I prefer a monotone command voice and I show my happiness with the dog in other ways as they are learning. For some exercises, I prefer an energetic happy tone because I am trying to get them to do something quickly and with drive, like the come command when starting out. Tone of voice and the contrast between being pleased and being firm can help your dog to learn your communication and what you want from them.
- Body Language: Dogs understand body language among themselves. You will see dogs give each other body bumps, sometimes in play and sometimes more of a movement control. Dogs will puff out their chests and make themselves look larger by putting their hackles up when concerned about a stranger. We use our body language in all sorts of ways to train dogs too. One way has to deal with being consistent as discussed in point 2. When someone is training obedience for competition or just walking, the movement of the head and the feet consistently will tell the dog what you are going to do without needing a command. If we want a dog to stay on an item, we will use spatial pressure and body bumping among other things to teach them. Because dog's do not know English, keeping our body movements consistent also teaches them how to follow our lead.
- Containment: Dogs move faster than us, and are usually quite a bit more agile and stronger than we are. Most dogs will not use their full force against us, so it might not seem that way. Because they are faster and more agile than humans, we need a way to keep them with us when we are training. The alternative is to fail entirely or go through a lot of unnecessary aggravation or even grief.
- Learning Theory: The many methods of dog training have been designed with behavioral conditioning or learning theories in mind. These are theories that scientists have proven, but weren't actually designed for the purpose of training domestic dogs. Operant conditioning is a learning theory related to Skinner that uses 4 quadrants. This operates on the theory that (1) you can add something to increase the possibility of an action or behavior (positive reinforcement), (2) you can take something away to decrease the possibility of an action or behavior (negative punishment), (3) you can do something to decrease the possibility of an action or behavior (positive punishment), or (4) you can not do something to increase the possibility of an action or behavior (negative reinforcement). Punishment in this scientific sense just means decrease in a behavior or action. Negative in this scientific sense means not taking action or taking something away. Reinforcement in this scientific sense means increasing in a behavior or action. Positive in this scientific sense means adding something. Classical Conditioning is related to Pavlov. A stimulus creates a response that is out of the control of the individual. In other words the ringing of the bell made his dogs drool when paired with the expectation of food. Counter Conditioning The typical use for this in dog training would be the dog's wanting to jump would be halted by a well trained sit. The jumping action is incompatible with an obedient and well trained dog's sit for instance.
- Timing: Timing is used to give an opportunity to perform the command, and then give feedback one way or another. Sloppy and inconsistent timing can really set back a training program or make it ineffective at best.
- Non Distraction and Distractions: Realize most dogs are not going to learn anything if you start at the most distracting environment, a good distance away, and then for a period of time the dog is not ready for. Everything new being taught to the dog is best to do in a non distracting and quiet environment. The exercise is then build up to a standard, and then once that is solid it is time to repeat from the beginning in more distracting environments, distance, and time (best taken one at a time for each).
- Showing, Learning, Proofing and Maintaining: There is not just one training level and then you are done with training. Training has four levels (see blog below this one) in order to complete and then continue to have a well trained dog. Proofing is the level where you are checking on whether the training is at your goal. This is where the number of repetitions is suggested, in a particular environment, and to be completed four times in a row (my preference) easily for the goal you are working on.
- Order of Commands When Training: Foundation commands are typically trained first. These are commands that the dog requires no prerequisite knowledge, and upon these other commands will be built. Commands then progress in an order that makes sense. For instance, before you train a stay, you probably want a sit or down command. In this fashion, you are always practicing your old commands as you advance to more complicated commands.
- The concept of Calm and Behavioral Exercises: In order to do your best training, dogs need to learn to focus and also be calm. Calm is especially good for those times the dog is not training, and the family just needs to relax and have some downtime all together with their canine buddy. Calm also helps promote confidence in multiple environments, especially when paired with behavioral exercises. In my opinion, good dog training does not exist without the knowledge of how to promote calm and steady. That is not to stay every dog will be calm and steady. However, improvement in most dogs can always be made to make something more manageable.
- Trust in Handler: A dog is going to have an exceptionally hard time learning without any trust in their owner or handler. This can be built through motivational techniques, activity techniques, engagement techniques, and behavioral exercises. Repetition of your work and care for the dog builds this relationship so that your dog can have confidence in you. The more confidence in your abilities the dog has, the more they can focus on any new work.
- Patience: As suggested in Point 9, dog training and making a relationship with your dog is a process. Dog training never happens in a day, but it does happen over months or years depending on your requirements and your dog. Dog training is not a short term goal, but a very long term goal that will pay off in dividends if you participate.
- Humans Requirement to Learn Along with the Dog: Realize that you need to learn along with your dog. Even if you have trained a dog before, dogs are individuals who have different temperaments, needs, motivators, likes, and dislikes. You need to learn the dog with you right now, as well as the techniques you will use to train your dog.
- Mindset of Humans when Teaching: A teacher that starts out a class angry and frustrated is probably not going to teach their students very much. We all have our off days. Be aware though, a calm and pleasant mindset is going to be way more beneficial to your dog's learning process.
Point 5 talks about containment being used as a building block to train your dog. If you would like to know where to find the best equipment for this, just sign up for our newsletter below.