There are some things in dog training you just have to understand in order to get the best results. The following are very basic concepts spelled out.
1. A dog (or any other animal) will repeat an action that is rewarded. Letting the dog know exactly what action is being rewarded is a matter of timing. The timing of the reward is very precise. Giving food treats without thinking or for doing nothing will reinforce the wrong action, confuse the dog, teach him to manipulate you, or simply make him fat. This is a fact. Either you get it or you don’t.
2. “Motivation” and “reward” are not the same things. Motivation is used to stimulate or focus the dog. It is something that prompts or gives incentive for the dog to behave a certain way. Playing chase-the-toy or tug games before, between, and after exercises is an excel-lent way to stimulate and motivate your dog. A reward is something given in return for something done. Rewards are used only in response to the action or behavior we want repeated. This can be a food reward or play precisely timed. This needs to be very clear in your mind in order for you to “get” number one above.
3. Actions have consequences. Sometimes it’s positive, like a reward of your approval, and sometimes it’s negative, like you stopping an action—such as stepping on the line when the dog is headed for the street. A good trainer always manages their interactions with their dog so the consequences are mostly positive, but is always prepared to use their body or the drag line for control. When the dog is allowed to run amok with no control, he creates his own positive consequences or possibly puts himself in danger. Either you “get” the fact that dogs must be controlled through management while being trained, or you don’t.
4. First things first. If you haven’t taught control, don’t expect the dog to do things that require control. When the time domes to do things where wearing a leash or line is dangerous, such as advanced jumping or obstacles, be sure you have taught control (come, or a good random down) very thoroughly first. These activities should be fun. Control is not negative when it’s taught properly. If you lose control of your dog and haven’t done the foundation work, you create a negative experience for both you and your dog.
5. Make sure the puppy understands one step before moving on to the next progression. And make sure it IS the next progression you move to when the pup is ready. Skipping ahead or moving too fast amounts to asking for failure. It’s the very nature of training to have to back up a step now and then, so be ready to accept that. But skipping steps just because “he does it at home” is asking for trouble.
Don’t expect reliability on control commands until the puppy is seven to ten months old, and that only when the pup has spent his whole life learning the control step by step. A more realistic expectation for most trainers is about one year. It isn’t enough to read this and say, “Yes, I understand” and then have all sorts of reasons why you can’t or won’t do it. This means you really don’t get it. Make no mistake—your dog will be trained whether you “get it” or not. It’s what the dog learns to do that is in question.
A good portion of training a dog is timing. That has to be learned and practiced. Equally important is consistency. You can’t take the dog on some outings with the line attached and others with no line. That teaches the dog exactly when you can control him and when you can’t. Consistency requires fore-thought. If you have trouble remembering such things, make yourself a checklist.
You are the responsible part of your dog/trainer team. Will you be responsible enough to consistently question yourself and what you are doing? Will you find a way to make yourself use rewards properly? Will you do what you need to do to control your dog during training? If you are willing to do this, then you really do get it.