The whole issue of “training” our dog is to teach it behaviors we consider appropriate and desirable. In the teaching process, the reason that we give a “command” or as I prefer to say “a cue” is to provide a “consequence.” It is done this way because that is how dogs learn. And not just dogs, mammals and people too! The learning takes place because of what happens during/immediately after the behavior: the consequences. For optimal learning the “consequence” must be applied during the behavior or within ½ second after the behavior. When you are training your dog, you are leading the dance! Rather than thinking of yourself as a drill sergeant, or a “Command Giver” be a good “Consequence Provider” and your dog will learn faster.
• Teaching your dog will be the very best if you think of yourself as a Consequence Provider rather than a Command Giver.
Most dog “behavior problems” are merely a dog expressing itself through natural doggy types of behaviors in a setting or context or location that we, as people, consider inappropriate. I.e. – all dogs pee, we prefer they do this outside, rather than on our living room rug. All dogs chew – we prefer that they chew their chew-toys rather than our furniture or shoes. If you need to use an aversive – like verbal “NO” or another appropriate aversive, try to catch the dog while they are thinking about it! I.e., if your dog is air scenting and looking at the trash – guess what he is thinking about! Tell him “NO” right then. Screaming and spanking after the fact does not help! It just teaches your dog that being in the same room with you and the garbage is a bad deal – it does not teach your dog that getting into the trash is bad. He’s already rewarded himself for that little move. So prevention – awareness and good communication is the key.
• Remember, dogs learn by association!
So take advantage of that and think about things from your dog’s point of view.
• What was his behavior?
• What were the consequences for him?
• Were the consequences you provided appropriate?
If a dog is positively reinforced for sitting you will increase the frequency of the sitting behavior. Fact. Scientifically proven. All that stuff. If you make it a point to praise/notice/reinforce those behaviors that you wish to see your dog exhibit, you will communicate to your dog most effectively. When your dog is quietly lying down and chewing his own toy – excellent time to go over, casually drop a dog cookie and say “Great dog, I am proud of you!” Or, at the very least, a warm “Good Baby.” Don’t wait until the dog is already being bad and then just yell at him. It is very important to reinforce or notice appropriate behavior as it is offered. This is the most effective way to show the dog how you want them to behave. (This stuff works great for kids and spouses too!) A low frequency of “punishment”, such as a verbal “NO” can also be effective for extinguishing or getting rid of behaviors you don’t want. Make sure that what you are doing is:
• Planning how to train the behavior
• Adding a cue when you can elicit the behavior
• Providing appropriate consequences
Now . . . Teaching a Cue!
Steps to Follow
1. Have a goal. If you don’t know what behavior you want, how is the dog to know?
2. To initiate new behaviors use a Lure/Reward system. The lure teaches the dog “what to do.” The reward teaches the relevance of “why comply.” Food is a good lure because it is so easy to control. After a bit the reward can be a “real life” reward, i.e., the dog wants to play – you ask for a sit and get it – the dog gets to go play. This step is initially done in a distraction free area.
Caution! Do not continue to use the lure for extended periods of time. AS SOON AS your dog gets the idea, get rid of the lure and reinforce the behavior as it is occurring.
• In the Learning Stage: 1 behavior = 1 reinforcement
3. Once the behavior is established harden the response to the cue. For instance, when first teaching the sit I would reward or reinforce all sits; even those just “offered.” The next step is to reinforce/reward only those sits that were preceded by my cue to do so. So this step involves putting the behavior “on cue.”
4. Once the cue/behavior pattern is established, you must begin to reward the responses at random intervals. In short, you become a “slot machine.” The dog will begin to work visibly harder in order to “get that payoff.” I find it more difficult to wean owners off the treats than I do the dogs!
5. You must take your behaviors “on the road.” Practice in many different locations/ situations. Practice a sit stay at the grocery store parking lot. (On leash!) This is the “proofing” phase. You are teaching the dog to obey even though there are distractions. At first the dog will require lots of support. You may have to “go back to kindergarten” – which is in effect a quick recap of the steps in the new situation. You would go right back to using a lure/reward to elicit the behavior and build on that foundation in the new location/situation.
6. Only now, after many repetitions and much showing the dog what to do and lots of patience with each other, do you correct. The dog MUST understand the exercise intimately before it can understand: why the correction occurred and how to avoid the correction. I have trained some very complicated behavior chains with never having to administer any correction at all. You will find you correct ever less as your training / relationship grows and prospers. Remember, a correction does not have to be a physical punishment – it can be something as small as not allowing the dog to partake of a rewarding activity. Or it can be as minor a correction as VERY NEUTRALLY taking your dog by the collar and replacing it in a Sit or Down position. Loud yelling and hitting are never appropriate corrections.
Good luck and have lots of fun with your companion. Remember, training is a team effort and lots of joy is the name of the game!!!