Everyone enjoys a well-behaved dog, right? In fact, a dog that knows his/her boundaries is less likely to be anxious, fearful or stressed when faced with unfamiliar situations, simply because they know what is required of them whenever a particular command is given. Before learning about how to train dogs, it's important to know more about how they learn. Dogs learn like how toddlers learn, which means, it's almost always instant gratification that they're looking for. As they grow, their vocabulary takes the form of the word or commands we teach them. However, it is the tone of the word that is understood, and not the word itself. For example, if you say 'sit' and 'kit' in the same tone, your dog will still sit. Likewise, 'down' and 'gown' in the same tone result in the same action. According to research, dogs are known to have instinctive, adaptive, and working intelligence.
Instinctive intelligence refers to behaviours that come as a characteristic of their breed. For example, retrievers, setters, and pointers are almost always inclined to chase birds even if they aren't trained to do so. That's because it's an inherited breed characteristic that passes on from generation to generation. Adaptive learning is behaviour learnt from the environment and is most often seen in puppies. Adaptive learning refers to running for cover when it starts to rain, not crossing the road when there are too many vehicles, using puppy eyes to get people to drop their food etc. As is often believed, Indies are excellent adaptive learners because from the minute they're born, the environment around them teaches them how to survive. Working intelligence refers to intelligence acquired from what we teach them through puzzles, tasks, commands, and mental exercises.
Understanding the different ways a dog learns is crucial in determining how to build on their training schedule, for example, certain breeds enjoy reward-based training in the form of treats whilst others enjoy it in the form of toys. Contrary to popular belief, no dog breed is 'not smart', it's simply a matter of time, consistency, effort, and patience. In fact, all dogs can learn the behaviours you want them to know of, whilst simultaneously learning the behaviours that they can get away with. For example, a dog that is taught to not enter the kitchen finds himself lazing about on the couch or in the bedroom.
More often than not, dog obedience training first begins with training the parent. Yup, you read that right. The first step to dog training is training yourself to decide on what's allowed, when it's allowed, and to what extent it's allowed. Only when you are sure of this can you train your dog to listen to you when required. One of the most effective dog training techniques is positive reinforcement, where the dog is rewarded and praised for good behaviour, whilst wrong behaviour is ignored. Here, reward takes the form of treats, toys, and affection. When your dog does something you appreciate, like waiting outside the kitchen for their food, not jumping on the couch, not begging at the table, you reward them for their good behaviour. This forms a positive association between behaviour expected and gratification received in their brain.
How do I train my dog?
Positive reinforcement training, also known as reward-based training uses rewards in the form of treats, toys, and praise as a response to good behaviour. This form of training is seen to have the best results since dogs seek instant gratification, and are more likely to repeat the desired behaviour over and over when there's a powerful incentive. When using positive reinforcement training, it is important to note that we always reward behaviour we like, and ignore behaviour we don't. For example, a dog that sits outside the kitchen while food is being prepared is rewarded for good behaviour, whilst the dog entering the kitchen and jumping at the counter is ignored. Not every dog needs to learn the same obedience - it is what you want for your family. A family with senior citizens would prefer a dog greeting calmly as opposed to jumping about frantically. In such cases, the dog is then trained not to jump at people when they come home. Whenever the dog jumps, turn your back or walk out the door instead of giving the behaviour any sort of attention. Once he/she has calmed down, reward with a treat. All obedience commands are best exercised with different people, regardless of whether they live with you or not, because this way, the dog learns that good behaviour depends on the situation and not the person.
Training your dog at home requires a few basic supplies in order to make it easy, effective and engaging. To start with, you will require a sturdy collar and a long, non-retractable leash. Next, you will need treats - lots of treats. Remember to buy treats that are easy to chew, like biscuits or nuggets, as opposed to ones that take longer like bones and jerkies. You may also find it convenient to have treats of different 'value'. For example, a treat that will be eaten regardless of the dog's mood becomes one of the highest value and is kept for hard training or off-mood days. In addition to this, you will require supplies that you want for the execution of good behaviour. For example, a dog who is being taught not to beg, is directed to a mat or bed, where he/she is rewarded upon sitting or laying down there. Likewise, dogs that are being helped to cope with separation anxiety require mentally-stimulating puzzle toys to keep them company when the family isn't around. In short, equipment for dog training at home is based on the behaviours you require.
Remember, not every dog needs to learn how to sit. Commands are solely based on what the family deem necessary. A dog who doesn't know how to sit can perfectly learn how to 'leave-it'. Oftentimes, 'sit' is considered a yardstick to good behaviour, which is far from the truth. Before attempting dog training at home, make a list of commands you want your dog to know. This can be something as simple as 'come' to something as complex as fetching the newspaper or opening the door. Once you have your list ready, start with the ones that don't require much effort. This gives the dog sufficient confidence to execute more complex commands. Remember, however, that every command takes its time, and requires all of your time, effort, patience, and consistency.
No one wants to keep working, even if it means all the treats in the world. Burnout is very common in puppies and dogs across all breeds and ages. That's why, it's important to keep training sessions short, engaging, and well spread out. Training sessions should not exceed ten minutes for puppies and fifteen minutes for adult dogs. It is also important to space out training sessions equally, i.e. with a gap of at least 6 hours. Focus on only one command at a time and move to the next only once the previous one has been mastered with everyone and in every situation.
There's nothing like reinforcement and consistency. The more your dog practices the command in a variety of situations, the more he/she is comfortable in executing it. Everyone's dog can come when called at home, but not everyone's dog can come when called in a park, at a hotel, at a train station, or simply when there is a cat/squirrel in front of them. In order to ensure mastery of the command, it is very important to practice it outside the home, i.e. where there are several distractions. Whilst this may take longer than imagined and test your patience, it is important to note that it's not easy for your dog to avoid all smell and sight and listen to you. Hence, patience, consistency, and effort are crucial during the reinforcement stage.
Remember, training isn't you telling your dog what to do, it is your dog understanding why he/she is being asked to do something. And, that comes solely from understanding how dogs learn about the environment around them. Dog training begins with training yourself to be patient, consistent, and affectionate even of rough days, because, remember no matter what, your dog is going to love you just the same - with or without training. It is us, humans, who want them trained, hence it is our responsibility to learn the right way to train them. Use this as a guide to help you make informed decisions the next time you train your dog.