Are you relaxed & interested yet?
Never try to train your dog until after exercise when he is more physically tired and more mentally focused and alert. If using treats, train before mealtimes when he is hungry and keener to work. Remember: reward the behaviour you want and ignore the behaviour you don’t want.
Signals, not commands
It is better to think of training as a set of signals you are sending your dog. This way when he can’t perform a trick he is not disobeying a command but rather has failed to read your signal correctly. This will help you think of your part in the training process and that perhaps you are not sending him a clear signal.
Short & sweet
Keep training sessions short and sweet. A good time to go over the basics is when watching TV. When the ads are on turn the volume down and run through a few of the basics for the 3 minutes. Remember always finish on something you know he can do and always be upbeat and positive. It’s important for you both to enjoy the experience.
When your dog is learning all this new information be patient and give him time to figure out what you are trying to get him to do. It is good to give your signal and wait 30-45 seconds to let him try to guess what exactly is required. If he can’t get it after this amount of time say “oops” in an upbeat manner this gives your dog a try again signal. Start again by going back to a step in the training he was able to perform consistently.
Dogs are very good at reading body language and when training every little detail is noted by them. Try to have a starting position you use before giving a signal. A good idea is to stand up straight with your arms at your chest. This will be a good starting point for you and him as you go through the training steps together. Close your eyes and imagine what you are going to do and what you want him to do before starting.
Clicker training – click, treat & repeat
A clicker is a small plastic devise that emits a loud clicking sound. It is a unique sound that to start with has no meaning. The basis is that you only click the behaviours you want. The click will tell the dog if he has performed the right behaviour to earn his treat and also makes you as the owner focus more closely on the behaviours he is performing and which ones deserve to be rewarded.
To introduce the clicker give a click followed by a food reward/treat. Continue with several more clicks followed by a treat – one click/one treat. Following on from this introduction the dog should look pleased and excited whenever the click sounds. You are now ready to clicker train. You can now lure or naturally allow a desired action to be performed. Once the behaviour happens click and reward the behaviour. Once the behaviour becomes more regular, due to positive reinforcement, you can give the behaviour a name e.g. wait for your dog to sit, click & treat, repeat many times, now as he is about to sit say his name and “sit”, if he sits click, treat & repeat.
Rules: Never give a click without a reward. Don’t use it to get the dogs attention; he only gets a click after performing the desired behaviour. Once he has the behaviour only food reward occasionally to keep him interested in continuing to perform the behaviour. He’ll never know which one he’ll get the treat for so it’s always worth doing the behaviour just in case.
Mental and physical exercise
Try to give your dog an energetic fun run twice a day (at least 20 minutes per time and more depending on the age and stamina of the dog). Making basic training fun and challenging will provide a workout for the dogs brain which is essential in developing confidence.
Teach your dog to trust you. Do this by making the dog earn all the things he values and enjoys – this includes praise, petting, treats, putting the leash on, going through doors, tossing his favourite toy. For all these things the dog must sit – he must learn to say please by being calm and by sitting.
Environmental enrichment for the dog:
Wild dogs spend a lot of their time in search of prey, hunting, catching and scavenging. In domestic situations feeding times are greatly reduced to just a few seconds. The result of this is under stimulation, boredom and possible behaviour problems such as destructiveness. We need to make our dogs work for their food and stimulate normal wild behaviours. Chewing soothes dogs when they are anxious and is an activity used to relieve boredom.
Activity feeding: Scatter the dog’s food in the garden for the dog to find. Use activity feeders or take the lid off empty plastic bottles – these can be suspended at dog height to enable the dog to knock food out. Hide the food in several locations around the garden. Feed most of the daily amount through activity feeding methods in several short sessions.
Authored by Mark McCorry RVN