Part of the responsibility of being a dog owner is making certain your dog is well mannered around others. A dog owner is also responsible for the safety of his dog. This means not only keeping him from harm but also keeping him from running in front of a car or getting in trouble with the authorities because of misconduct, such as biting the postman. The best way to ensure all of these is to obedience train your dog.
Dogs in the wild live by the rules of the pack. These rules serve them well in that situation but we’ve asked them to live with us and our rules must now be followed. It is absolutely possible to have a well-trained dog who is still a dog and we should be careful to train them as animals and not toddlers. There are many different types of training techniques offered in books, on DVDs, on the web, and by personal trainers. But there are a few dog training basics to consider first.
Dog Training Basics
The Goal of Training: The goal of training is to have a well-mannered dog who is confident and relaxed. Training reasserts your role as alpha and this makes your dog more comfortable with his place in the pack. The goal of training is not to rob your dog of his quirky qualities such as mischievousness and clowning. It is also not a place for any kind of cruelty such as harsh reprimands or physical dominance.
Age to Begin Training: Dogs can begin training as early as three months. Prior to that, their focus is not good enough. Training a puppy can be a challenge at first but if you start with basics such as “Sit!” and “Stay,” your pup will learn quickly. Older dogs can certainly be trained and though they may be slower with the uptake, their calmer demeanor makes training easier.
Finding a Good Trainer: Though it is helpful to supplement with books and videos, your dog should attend at least a basic obedience class. This will help socialize him, give you an idea of how he reacts to new situations, and offers hands on instruction. A good trainer is a Godsend and will treat your dog as an individual. Word-of-mouth is the surest way to find a good trainer but you can also check with an organization such as the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers). Training organizations can also help you determine if your trainer is certified.
Your Role as Student and Teacher: It is very helpful if you can have a calm demeanor when training your dog. This will relax your dog and give him confidence. As a student, listen intently to your trainer and also observe what she does. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for extra help. As a teacher, be consistent and establish a training routine for you and your dog.
The 15 Minute Rule: When training your dog yourself, keep in mind that they can only hold attention for about fifteen minutes at a time. It’s better to do two fifteen minute sessions per day than one half-hour session.
Different Training Techniques
Most obedience training methods today use positive reinforcement. Some use it exclusively while others combine it with correction. Choosing a method depends on which technique you are most comfortable with, keeping in mind your dog’s personality. Different dog breeds have different temperaments and different dogs within a breed have different personalities. Though the basic commands are similar amongst various training methods, one method may be better for your dog than another. For example, a timid Yorkie is less likely to respond well to a corrective technique while a bull-headed Pit Bull will probably need a combo of positive and corrective reinforcement. The key is to remember that training your dog is fun and a great opportunity for you to bond. Leave the day’s frustrations out of the session.
Traditional Dog Training: The modern version of traditional training really began with Barbara Woodhouse in the 1950s. This method uses physical corrections to train a dog. For example, if you tell your dog to sit and he stays standing, you might give a gentle jerk on his collar or choke chain while pushing down his rump. Rewards for a completed task include an encouraging “Good Dog!”. This method is considered to be outdated by many modern trainers but you’ll find that some dogs (like that bull-headed Pit Bull) might respond to this after failing with positive reinforcement training.
Clicker Training: This is one of the most popular recent types of dog training and was introduced by Karen Pryor. It can be used for everything from basic commands to potty training to behavioral problems such as excessive barking. The theory behind clicker training is that animals learn best from “operant conditioning.” Operant conditioning means that an animal learns from his environment and that he is more likely to respond to a positive consequence than a negative one.This is pure positive reinforcement training – the clicker indicates to a dog what he has done right. This method is well-liked because it is gentle and offers a good experience for both dog and owner.
Reward Training: This is another positive reinforcement technique but the incentive is not the association with the clicker, but some sort of reward. The reward can be a favorite toy, food, or anything he loves (except the cat). When you give the reward, you should praise your dog in a high pitched encouraging voice. Enthusiasm is encouraged in both you and your dog.
Dog Whispering: Though Cesar Millan, the inventor of this method, sometimes comes under criticism because of the use of correction, it can be a very useful technique with some dogs. The foundation of dog whispering is the connection with and understanding between you and your dog. The key is that you have to be able to read your dog’s body language and to use your own body language to train him. This does often involve correction but the corrections are based on dog behavior. For example, a dog who is being aggressive toward another dog can be corrected by applying a clawed hand to his neck. This mimics what his mother would have done in the wild. This method requires some study into the behavior of dogs but it can create a very tight bond between you.
In addition to actual dog trainers, you can get advice from a dog behavioral specialist. You might also be interested in learning about the cognitive functions of dogs. There are books on the subject and Cognitive Canine Centers around the country. This will help you understand how your dog thinks and will make training easier. Remember that the most important aspects are to be calm and consistent and try to have some fun, too!