Sharing dog training stories and tips amongst The Dog Express team members has proven enlightening, hilarious and thought-provoking. Whilst it shows that different breeds have different learning styles and that some breeds are definitely easier to train than others, it has also made it clear that there is no pre-defined way to train a dog. Hence this article so that we can share some of the tips and tricks that have worked for us and also to point out the pitfalls before new dogs owners fall into them.
Training a dog does have some rules in common that can be used for all breeds and then there is also a lot of trial and error to see what works for you and your pet. Whether you want to teach your dog to sit, roll-over or give you their paw or you are looking for more complex tricks such as stay, recall of a leash or fetch and return, you have to have patience and remain calm at all times (not easy when your pooch is half way to China and you left holding the lead!)
Tip #1 – Praise & Reward
People often think of dogs as being human, which puts far too much emphasis on them being able to understand what you are saying and what you mean. Whilst it has been proven that some breeds can be as intelligent as a 3 year old child, they do not understand scolding or affection when it is not associated with an act.
Example: If your dog digs a hole in your new carpet whilst you are out and you return home a few hours later and scold the dog, it will not understand what it has done wrong and will very quickly become afraid of you returning home, because the dog now associates you entering the house with getting shouted at. In the dogs mind, the carpet incident has been and gone and it doesn’t link your anger with its actions.
This is exactly the same notion as using rewards and praise too early or too late during training (note: we are not talking about abstaining from affection unless training, just ensuring that praising during training is done at the correct time). The point to reward with treats, praise or affection during training is immediately after your dog does something right. The reward/praise has to be instantaneous for the dog to associate it with the act he has performed correctly.
Example: If you are teaching your dog to sit, you use the command ‘sit’ and for the first few times push their bum down into the sitting position so that they understand what you mean by this word. Then reward as soon as their bum hits the floor. Continue using the ‘sit’ command without touching and again the instant the dog sits, reward/praise. The aim with your affection or treat is to have the dog associate the word and action of sitting with being rewarded. Going forwards, once the dog is more proficient at doing as you are commanding, treat more rarely, but never stop altogether. The dog has to believe that there is the possibility they will be rewarded for the action, otherwise they will not see the point and quickly lose interest.
Tip #2 – Repetition
Training a dog takes time. Some breeds will pick up simple tricks such as sit and paw within a few days, for others it can take weeks. However, the trick is to repeat just one training routine over and over until the dog has picked it up and will act on command. Then and only then should you move onto a new trick. It is the same with all us dog owners, especially when we have a new dog that we want to teach it many things at once and we get bored sometimes before the dog does so we jump from one training technique to another. However all this does is confuse the dogs and allows them to mix up commands and get frustrated.
Repeat and reward until your dog carries out the requested action on command every time you as them to. Try it out in different environments and perfect each trick before moving on, then you can be sure of effective training and learning for you and your dog. If you have taught your dog to sit in the house, don’t assume that they now understand the command perfectly. Being outdoors or in different environments is very challenging for a dog with fresh scents and sights and the new trick may just go to the back of their mind, so repeat in all environments before moving on.
Tip #3 – Keep Calm (and carry on!)
Dogs have finely tuned emotion sensors and can pick up on human feelings, emotions and behaviours well before another person would. If you are agitated, angry or just not in the mood, you should avoid training your dog. Maybe you have had a bad day at work or had a fight with your partner and even though you may think you will distract yourself with doing a few training sessions with the dog; it is likely that you will be shorter on temper than usual and your dog will not be as responsive.
The best mood for training is when you are full of energy, happy and relaxed and have the time and desire to spend 30 minutes or so doing repetitive training and reward exercises.
Tip #4 – Persevere
Our best tip and the one that has come from all dog trainers that we have talked to is perseverance. Do not give up!
You may not see results straight away, but there is not a dog alive that cannot be trained to some degree and we cannot place enough emphasis on sticking with it because you will be overjoyed with the results. Training your dog not only benefits you both in terms of trust and bonding but it is also a safety measure at times. Being able to recall you dog if a lead breaks or getting you dog to sit on command at the side of a busy road could save their lives and prevent a lot of heartache for you and your family.
See the video below for exactly where perseverance can get you and your dog….and good luck!!