So, you have decided that you want to train your dog, good for you! You are in for a bunch of fun. But what training technique is best for you and your dog? What method should you use to enhance your bond, but still get your training points across?
Principles To Keep In Mind When Training
Treat your dog like he is already an adult dog. Basically, this means that if you don’t want your adult dog to jump on people, train your puppy to not jump up now. It might be cute to see your 1-month-old pitbull pulling on the leash, but it will not be fun to walk him when he is 65lbs of pure muscle.
Keep food treats small, especially for smaller dogs. A small dog will fill up too fast if you give them large treats. Smaller treats make for longer training sessions and leaner dogs. Be sure to choose treats that are good for your dog, like single-ingredients, meat treats.
Always stop a training session before your dog is tired. This will keep him ready for more. He will always be excited for training! On that note, be sure to end the session as if you are sad that it is ending vs. being happy you are done. This will rub off on the dog and he will be sad when a training session has stopped. Yet he will be all the more excited when you start the next training session.
Old-School Training (not recommended)
It used to be that people would “train” their dogs using force, yelling at the dog, or using any number of awful punishments when the dog did something wrong. This method focused on the negative. But it’s not that helpful. Okay, so the dog learns what not to do, but he still doesn’t know what you do want him to do. There is an infinite number of wrong answers, but only one that is right. So why not just reward the dog for performing the one right answer? This automatically rules out all of the wrong answers!
The training methods that we are going to discuss will be positive. These methods will help the dog to learn in a fun and engaging way. They will also help to build your bond with your dog and help you to become even better friends. Using positive methods will also help to reduce the likelihood of your dog developing certain diseases.
How does the training method used affect disease? Well, a lot of the old-school training techniques use a choke chain, shock collar, prong collar, or just a regular collar with sharp corrections. All of these collars are around the dog’s neck and have the potential to damage his thyroid. A dog’s thyroid is located on the front of his throat. This is the same area that takes the brunt force behind choke chains, prong collars, and other collars. The thyroid is affected by all of these things.
If the thyroid is damaged enough that can lead to hypothyroidism which affects the hormones of a dog and is considered an auto-immune disease. Unfortunately, once a dog has one auto-immune disease it doesn’t take much to get another like diabetes or cancer.
That is why I recommend training your dog with his leash attached to a harness and not to his collar. He can damage his own thyroid by pulling on the leash. A nice, simple harness is all you need.
With positive reinforcement, you are focusing on praising the dog for doing things you want him to do. This is a much nicer and less confusing way to train a dog. “Yes, you did that right!” Is much more clear than “no, you fail at that!” I mean what is the dog supposed to think? “That was wrong, I wonder what is right?”
An action that is rewarded will be repeated. That is the basic premises of positive reinforcement. Think about it, we don’t do much if we don’t get something out of it. We only work because we get paid. We volunteer because it makes us feel good. Even if you take your child to the doctor’s office to get a shot the nurse will give your child candy or a sticker.
You can reinforce the behaviors of your dog that you like with food, verbal praise, petting, or a quick game with a toy. What you choose as a reward will depend on your dog and what he likes as a reward. Remember you are “paying” your dog for the behavior, so the payment must be something your dog wants.
Don’t try to reward your dog with a game of tug if he never plays with toys. Don’t try to reward your dog with ear scratches if he dislikes having his ears touched. Don’t praise your dog in too high-pitched of a voice if you know he has sensitive ears. Don’t reward your dog with a flavor of treat he dislikes.
Choose rewards that you know your dog will be wild for. You can even have special rewards for when your dog performs particularly well. Perhaps a kangaroo jerky treats that he absolutely loves, but he only gets it when he responds super fast. Or a game of fetch for a dog who loves to chase, but only when he ignores distractions when you practice recalls with him.
Mark The Behavior
When training you will want to “mark” the behavior the moment your dog is doing it. So, when training your pup to sit you want to mark the second his little bum hits the ground. The mark lets the dog know he has done something right and a reward is coming. You can either use the same word all the time. Examples could be “yes,” “good,” “good boy,” “good dog,” “good girl,” “brilliant,” etc.
You could use a clicker to mark the behavior. Instead of saying “yes!” when your dog performs the behavior you would click the clicker. Of course, you can say something and click if you want too. The clicker really comes in handy if you have a cold or lose your voice or enthusiasm for some reason.
Another plus with the clicker is that it is easy for children to learn to do. So, they can be active in helping to train the dog. If everyone in the family has a clicker it can help make training more consistent. Just as long as everyone realizes that for every “click” there must be a treat soon coming to the dog.
With this method, you use a food treat or a toy to lure your dog into a position. As an example to train the dog to sit you would hold a treat just above the dog’s head and move the treat backward until he sits. The dog will sit because that makes it a little easier for him to keep his head elevated to get the treat. Or to train the dog to spin in a circle you would slowly move the treat around in a circle in front of the dog’s nose. As he followed it he would go in a circle. Once he has completed the movement you can mark the behavior and give the treat.
This is a good technique but it can be slightly frustrating if you can’t figure out the best way to lure your dog. When teaching sit, if your hand is a little too high your puppy will jump up instead of sit. It can be a good technique, though, because the hand movements you do with the lure can become a hand signal to the dog to perform the behavior.
Once the pup is performing the behavior consistently you can start to make the luring motion smaller and/or add a verbal cue before you ask for the behavior. Eventually, you can fade out the lure all together and just use your hand signal or verbal cue!
Caught In The Act
With this training technique, you simply watch your dog. You can only train one command at a time with this method which can be a little irritating. But if you are having real trouble training your dog to do one thing you might have to use this method. A clicker is an ideal training tool for this method.
Say you are training your dog to lay down. You wait until your dog does lay down the mark the behavior and give him a treat! Simple. Eventually, when your dog knows you have a treat he will begin to offer the laydown. When he starts to do this you can add a cue right before he does lay down. He will begin to understand that your cue means that you want him to lay down.
Do As I Do
This training technique relies on the thought that dogs are social learners and can learn by observation. Indeed, a puppy learns lots from watching his mother and littermates. When bringing a new puppy into a home with an older dog the puppy can learn by observing the older dog.
With this method you, the trainer performs the behavior then waits to see if the pup wil do itl. If he does mark the behavior and reward it! If he doesn’t perform the behavior, try again. Once the pup catches on that you want him to do things that you are doing, training will come quickly.
This may not be the best technique for all training situations. For instance… potty training. But it can be very powerful for teaching longer more involved tricks and commands.
This method is pretty much only possible if you choose to use a clicker. You will need to click for each small step in the right direction of the desired behavior. This method is particularly good if you are training a longer command or if your dog is really having trouble understanding what you are asking.
You can use any of the above training methods with this one. For instance, you are doing lure reward training. But for the life of you, you cannot get your dog to sit, your hand position doesn’t matter, the treat used makes no difference. Here is where shaping comes in.
You lure as normal, but when your dog makes the tiniest move toward sitting you click and treat. This could be as simple as the dog looking up at the treat. Then click and treat when he moves his head back further, but if he takes a step no click. If he begins to bend his back legs, click and treat. Then the more he bends his legs the more clicks and treats. It might take a little while but the pup will catch on. Soon you can just give the cue and click and treat for the end behavior.
It is really great for working with your dog on harder training too. Perhaps you want to train your dog to roll himself in a blanket. You would first have to click and treat when the dog showed interest in the blanket. Then click if the dog grabbed the blanket in his mouth. Click when the dog moved his head to one side with the blanket in his mouth. And so on until you could get your dog to hold the blanket in his mouth while he rolled over so that he has effectively rolled himself up in a blanket.
There are almost limitless methods of training your dog. Some work better than others and some work better for some dog and trainer combos than others do. Be sure to choose positive methods of training this will help to avoid disease in your dog as well as strengthen your bond. Don’t be afraid to try multiple techniques to see what works best for you and your dog. Make training fun and your dog will be a willing, life-long learner!