Dogs naturally want to please their owners; but without obedience dog training, they are unable to understand what you want. And without your direction, actions that are natural to them – chewing, barking, and even chasing the cat – may elicit screaming and cursing from you. Most of these natural instincts can be redirected to suitable alternatives, making both of you wag your tails with glee, (so to speak).
Effects of Dog Training
Proper training opens up the lines of communication between you and your pet. It also establishes the natural role of dominant owner and subordinate – not submissive – pet. Dogs are communal animals that historically lived in packs with a clear social hierarchy. Without establishing yourself as the leader of the pack, your dog may not take you or your commands seriously, which only leads to power struggles and headaches.
Obedience training will make life more enjoyable for both you and your dog. Fido will feel more confident without the frustration and confusion of misunderstanding his owner. You will have a well-behaved dog that sits to greet you and comes when called.
Whether you have a new puppy or are having problems with your adult dog, obedience training is the perfect solution. And contrary to popular belief, with enough patience, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Traditionally, most dogs were not companion pets, but rather “hired hands” – working for food and shelter. A watchdog warned his owner of approaching strangers. A guard dog protected his owner’s cart at the market. Sheepdogs kept the flock together and returned strays to the fold. Water dogs retrieved items that fell from the fishing boat or relayed messages between vessels. Hunting dogs tracked, pointed, cornered, or retrieved prey for the hunter. Sled dogs pulled their owners across the snow and ice. Draft dogs towed carts piled high with wares for their owners.
Most of these responsibilities have taken a backseat to the dog’s job of family friend, however some dogs still work for a living. The police and military train dogs for different functions within their organizations, such as detecting drugs or bombs, tracking suspects, or sniffing out traces of flammable gas in arson cases. Dogs also help out with the physically impaired as guide dogs, service dogs, hearing dogs, or therapy dogs. And don’t forget the dogs of Hollywood – Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Benji and more recently all 101 Dalmatians, Eddie (the dog on Frasier, played by a Jack Russell named Moose the Dog), and Winn Dixie (from Because of Winn Dixie, played by a Picardy shepherd named Laiko). These dogs all learned desired behaviors through repeated attempts that were rewarded by their owners or trainers. Watch The National Geographic channel’s Dogs With Jobs to see some ordinary dogs with extraordinary jobs.
Even before dogs worked for humans, they worked together as a team. They learned how to live together as a group, and each dog knew his role within the pack. Young pups were rewarded for preferred behavior with playful games, food, or affectionate cleaning. Pups were also corrected for unacceptable pack behavior. These wild dogs even “housetrained” themselves to keep the den clean. All of this training was done without human instruction.
Every breed is capable of being trained. Dogs such as the border collie and the golden retriever are easier to train. In some breeds, such as hounds, the ability for quick learning has been minimized in order to strengthen the breed’s hunting and tracking skills.
Read about breed histories at 5 Star Dog’s Breed Description section (http://www.5stardog.com/dog-breeds.asp) to learn about your dog’s work skills.
Dogs Learn by Trial and Error
Dogs are intelligent animals. They will try and try again, particularly if they encounter a problem that they want solved. Anyone who has seen a dog get to the biscuits in the cupboard or escape out of the kennel knows this. An article by Connie Cleveland entitled “How Dogs Learn” explains how “behavior precedes learning.”
A dog that wants out of a secure fenced yard will make several different attempts at escape. First he may run around the perimeter, looking for a hole in the fence. He may try to dig under or even climb on his doghouse in an attempt to jump over. Each unsuccessful endeavor is abandoned for a new solution. This trial and error method helps Fido learn.
A dog will not repeat behaviors that are unrewarded. So if the dog is unable to jump over the fence and cannot dig beneath the fence, he will soon abandon these behaviors for something new. He may jump at the gate of the fence, having seen people enter and exit the yard through it. This random trial might produce results – even though by accident initially. However, since the desired result was achieved, the dog now repeats this behavior, becoming more and more conscious of exactly what he did each time he opens the gate. Soon he is able to purposefully approach the fence and open the gate. He has learned a new skill, because he was faced with a problem and systematically ruled out the wrong behavior until he found the correct solution.
Understanding your dog’s method of learning can help you train him to respond to simple obedience commands. The main reason for failed training sessions is that the owner expects his pet to think and respond like humans do. If you keep in mind this trial and error method, you will save both yourself and your dog a lot of stress.
Another key to successful obedience training is location. It is best to begin the process in an established place with minimal distractions. Once you both feel comfortable with the commands, it is time to begin training outside of this familiar zone. Expect setbacks. Dogs are situational by nature, so a command that is followed without fail at home may be ignored in the park (or anywhere else). You should expect to retrain commands in new settings, although learning should come much quicker this time around.
Gwen Bohenkamp points out in “Obedience Training Your Dog or Puppy: How and Why” that while it may seem like a step backwards to add distractions to your training sessions, it is pointless to have a dog who sits on command only when no one is there. A well-behaved dog is only advantageous if he sits and stays when company’s at the door. Distractions are a predictable part of life; your dog should be prepared to obey you in spite of the knock at the door, the poodle in the park, or any other interruption.
Obedience training should not be monotonous to you or your dog. Practice daily, but let the lessons permeate into everyday activities until they become second nature.
Training Dogs With Reinforcement and Corrections
Positive reinforcement is necessary for the learning process. A dog that is continually told ‘no’ will become desensitized to it and begin to ignore your reprimands. Rewards should consist mainly of praise and affection, but could also occasionally include treats, new toys, or even a favorite game. Always reward the correct response or behavior in order to facilitate learning. And while you shouldn’t be stingy with your praise, you also shouldn’t overdo it. If you continually praise your dog for no reason, your dog will not be able to distinguish desired behavior from daily activities.
Reprimands such as hitting or other physical punishments are ineffective methods of training and are never recommended in any situation. Such methods only create dogs that are wary, frightened, or aggressive without producing the desired behavior. The proper use of your voice can be an effective reprimand. A sharp ‘no’ will grab your dog’s attention and discourage the inappropriate response. However in some cases with some dogs, a simple ‘no’ is just not enough. There is still no need to resort to violence. “Understanding Corrections” is an excellent article by Connie Cleveland that teaches proper reinforcement when voice reprimands aren’t enough.
If negative reinforcement must be used, it shouldn’t be so forceful as to cause fear in your pet. At the same time, it has to cause some discomfort, or at the very least annoyance, otherwise it will be ineffective. Cleveland describes a proper correction as a pull on the leash, a pinch on the ear, or anything else that your dog finds offensive. You will have to experiment with your dog to find exactly what works best – which may just be a stern “Fido!” – to bring your dog to attention. A correction is not a mindless yank on your dog’s leash. Your dog must understand the purpose of the yank, or he will stay just as confused and frustrated as a dog that isn’t trained. According to Cleveland, proper use of corrections will result in a dog that understands how to stop the correction and what to do to prevent it from occurring again.
Training Dogs to Pay Attention!
The first step to successful training is teaching your dog to pay attention to you. Before he can learn, Fido’s eyes need to be looking into your eyes. You may need to kneel down to his level to eliminate a height difference in small breeds. Get him in a sitting position and use a treat to get his attention. Keep the treat between your face and his and praise him when he looks at you. If he looks away or gets up, stop talking to him. Only offer praise for the desired behavior – paying attention. Cleveland suggests that the next time your dog looks away, “pop the leash straight up,” gauging the force of the pull by your own dog’s reaction. You must do it hard enough to get your dog’s immediate response, but not so hard as to frighten or hurt your pet.
Cleveland’s training article lists several possible responses to the correction and the proper adjustment the owner should make. For instance, your dog may jump up, thinking that you pulled on the leash because you wanted him to move. Truly a good guess on your dog’s part, however it is still the wrong answer. Push him back into a sitting position and raise his head to look at you. Then praise him for looking at you – the desired behavior. Or he may bow his head, preparing for the next pull. This requires the same response on your part: raise his head to look at you and praise him. “Good Fido!” If he doesn’t respond at all to the correction, then you didn’t offend him with it and need to pull harder.
Cleveland warns that some dogs feel the pull, but do nothing anyway. Yanking harder for this type of response will only create confusion and fear. The goal of correction-based training is twofold. Your dog should:
- Know how to stop the correction by using the correct behavior and
- How to avoid the correction by paying attention even with distractions.
After you have achieved the desired behavior, you can try this same lesson while standing in front of your dog, beside him, and in the heel position.
If your dog doesn’t respond appropriately to the correction, it is possible that he is still making an effort, but is just providing an incorrect response. Cleveland calls this an effort error. An example of an effort error is if your dog jumps up when you pull the leash. He may think that you want him to move, which is an attempt at obeying you, even though an incorrect response.
We do not condone abuse for any reason. We do not believe that making your dog fearful of you is any way to train. Corrections are meant to get your dog’s attention, not hurt or scare him. You know your dog best. If you feel that a pull on his leash will scare him, then don’t do it! You are your pet’s guardian and caretaker. You are his safe person. If your dog does not respond to a sharp tone of voice, and you feel that he would be fearful of corrections, then you may want to look into other alternatives.
Squirt bottles and shake cans have been used in dog training, although some feel that these methods are cruel. The squirt of water may be such a shock that your dog may avoid the task altogether or only repeats the behavior when you are away. This is not only an ineffective training method; it also causes your dog to be scared of you. The shake can creates the same surprise that might result in fear, although Brandy J. Oliver, author of “Correcting Dogs: (alternatives for) Punishment with Shake Cans & Squirt Guns” feels that the shake can is the gentler method if used sparingly. It is difficult to get the attention of some dogs, and a loud noise is effective. A shake can (or a clap or whistle) works great as long as the dog does not perceive it as a threat.
Oliver recommends an alternative to these questionable methods in the form of clicker-training. This scientific training method was developed to train dolphins and has become a widely discussed canine training method. Instead of focusing on improper behavior, the trainer looks for the desired behavior and “clicks” it using a small clicking device. Praise follows the click. Each time the dog stumbles upon the correct behavior, the trainer clicks and praises.
Clicker training requires a great deal of patience. You must wait for the dog to perform the correct behavior. You do not demonstrate the desired behavior, and you ignore wrong responses. Karen Pryor writes in “What is Clicker Training?” that “click by click, you ‘shape’ longer sits… until you have the final results you want.” Pryor claims that dogs quickly learn that the marker signal means that they are doing something right.
Other trainers applaud the clicker method of training when used as a secondary reinforcement in conjunction with other training techniques. Kathleen Weaver describes using the clicker (or blowing a whistle, clucking your tongue, snapping your fingers, or any other noise) along with food rewards in her article entitled “Clicker Training.” Before you begin obedience training, you have to teach your dog “that the clicker is always followed by a reward.” To teach this lesson, feed your dog a treat and click simultaneously. Do this numerous times, sometimes varying the time between click and food. Be sure that the click always comes first. Soon, whenever Fido hears the click, he’ll stop whatever he’s doing to receive his reward.
At this point, it’s time to start obedience training. Begin to click for desired behavior, sitting calmly, perhaps. You want you dog to hold the behavior until the reward is offered, so slowly extend the time between click and reward. Eventually, you will be able to replace the food reward with praise alone. Also, the positive reinforcement doesn’t necessarily need to be food. Weaver points out that some dogs don’t respond well to food and others are distracted by it. Use whatever positive reinforcement to which your dog responds.
The Magic Dog Training Command
Pam Young, LVT, author of “It All Starts With Just One Command…” believes that if you only want to teach your dog one command, then “sit” is it. When company comes to the door, “sit” will stop Fido from jumping on them. When it’s time to go for a walk, “sit” will calm him down and allow you to go out the door first. Another “sit” will give you the opportunity to close and lock the door behind you instead of Fido yanking you off of the porch in anticipation. Jumping on the furniture can be resolved with a magic “sit” before he has a chance. Or if it’s too late, and he’s jumped up already; teach him “off,” and then tell him to sit. Always, always, always praise him for the desired behavior!
Puppies can begin learning commands as early as four months old, according to Oliver. If you have the opportunity to train your pet at this early of an age – take advantage of it. While older dogs can be trained, it often takes more time and patience to teach them. Keep in mind that even a small amount of training is worth the effort.
Train Your Dog to Stay
The “stay” command tells your dog not to move, creating a plethora of opportunities to disobey. Dogs are curious creatures, and puppies in particular are always full of action. Training your pet to stay will help in numerous situations – often combined with the “sit” command.
To teach “stay,” get Fido to lie down, even if you have to help him get there. Lying down rather than sitting is a better choice for training purposes, because it is harder to jump up from a lying position. Sit beside him, keeping your hands on his torso, so that he doesn’t get up. Don’t push down on him; but if you feel him trying to get up, apply a slight pressure to prevent him from doing so. Now put a treat in front of him (Oliver recommends a piece of hot dog). The treat should be far enough away so that Fido can’t gobble it up just yet. Place your palm in front of his face and say, “stay.” The tone of your voice should demand attention and be forceful without being threatening. Remove your palm, but keep your hand on his back to ensure that he doesn’t leap up immediately. After a short stay – about three seconds initially – release your dog from the stay. A proper release includes a standard keyword, such as “ok” along with the removal of your hands from Fido’s body. The tone of your voice should be upbeat and relaxed. You should immediately praise your dog (as he’s devouring the hot dog). Praise should include petting, rubbing, and lots of enthusiastic “good dog”s. Dogs understand the tone of your voice more than the words themselves.
Oliver recommends repeating this exercise several times a day for a couple of weeks. Throughout this time, you should be able to loosen your hold and even lengthen the time of the stay. Always praise your dog for a job well done. Oliver suggests that after your dog can stay for thirty seconds and fully knows what’s expected of him, you can begin voice corrections for wrong responses. Tell the dog ‘no’ or ‘wrong’ and place him back in the lying stay position.
Some trainers believe that your tone of voice should remain indifferent during voice corrections. The lack of praise is correction enough; while others believe that a stern, but not harsh, tone is best. Each dog is different, and you will be able to tell what is needed with your dog. You must walk a line between your pet’s indifference and frightening him. It is a thin line that should err on the side of your pet’s indifference rather than having your dog scared of you.
Oliver describes the next step in training, involving moving away from your dog as you repeat the command of ‘stay.’ Keep your palm to your dog as you step back and after you have taken about three steps back, release your dog by saying ‘okay’ and putting your hand down. Give Fido plenty of praise and his treat.
Stay is one of the few commands that is beneficial to repeat. Oliver reminds us that with other commands, we expect an immediate response – as with “sit” or “off.” Most commands require action. ‘Stay’ demands inaction. Repetition will help your dog understand that you haven’t released him from the command. Again, it is time to increase the length of the stay and then the space between you and Fido. At the successful completion of these sessions, your dog should have a comprehensive understanding of the “stay” command.
Train Your Dog to Come
Another important command that is essential to your dog’s safety is “come.” This is a particularly important command if your dog has a predetermined inclination towards chasing – whether it’s squirrels, cars, or your neighbor’s cat. Visit 5 Star Dog’s breed descriptions (http://www.5stardog.com/dog-breeds.asp) to learn more about your dog’s habits and tendencies.
The best way to teach your dog to come when called, according to Oliver, is to reinforce the action when your dog is already coming to you. The best way to do this is to use the command when your dog is already coming to you anyway. Then praise him when he gets to you. Keep this up for several weeks before testing your dog’s understanding of the command. Oliver points out that you must “back up” your command or your dog will quickly regress. The best way to ensure that your dog learns “come” is to use a harness leash to gently pull him to you if he doesn’t obey. (Don’t forget to praise, even if you have to pull him.) Never, ever chase your dog. It will become a game to him, and he will want to play it every time he hears “come!” Also, only use a harness leash – not a regular one or choke collar. Harnesses move your dog without choking or hurting him.
Never use the “come” command to scold your pet for chewing on your slippers or any other unwanted behavior. Your dog should always meet praise when he obeys a command. If he eats your slippers, go to him to reprimand him.
Oliver writes that it will take three to five months to learn “come” under these conditions. Remember that if your dog doesn’t respond, go and get him. Oliver recommends walking him back to where you were first standing, repeating the “come” command to show him what he did wrong.
Another good tip from Oliver is to change the command word to something like “here,” if your dog has had previous negative experiences with the “come” command. This way you can begin a whole new command (in your dog’s eyes) that rewards him with praise and leaves you with a dog that obeys.
The Proper Way To Play With Your Dog
An important – and often forgotten – part of training is the role of games within the boundaries of your relationship with your pet. Oftentimes owners engage their cute little puppies in games that encourage biting, chasing, and jumping. These are all behaviors that we discourage once that cute little puppy grows into an adult – especially if your dog happens to be one of the larger breeds.
The following list of playtime tips is adapted from Carol A. Byrnes’s article “Diamonds in the Ruff.”
- Avoid over-stimulation and competition – You may say that the whole point of a game is to compete, which may be true in the human world, but will only cause problems with your pet. For instance, dangling a toy above your dog’s head and teasing him may seem like good clean fun; but when he’s pulling the tablecloth off of the table or snatching Teddy from your child’s tearful grip, it’s not longer fun. In fact, it could be downright dangerous.
- Do not use your body as a toy – Don’t wrestle with your dog or drop to your hands and knees and act like a dog. These types of games lower your standing from leader to equal and may affect obedience training. Additionally, these games encourage both barking and biting – characteristics that you should discourage. Toys that are acceptable include chew toys and interactive toys. Chew toys, such as that rubber hamburger, will redirect your dog’s biting instincts from your shoes to a more appropriate outlet. Interactive toys such as balls or tug toys are those that he plays with you. While the dog may keep his chew toys, you should always be in control of the interactive toys. Do not let interactive toys turn into chew toys.
- Use your voice and stance – Squeals and whining emanate the sound of a squeaky toy or a wounded animal, igniting within your dog the urge to attack. Always keep a deep tone of voice and recommend that children and women attempt to do the same. When giving commands, tell your dog what you expect; don’t just make requests. Stand tall and look down on your dog to demand respect. If your dog attempts to take something from you, don’t snatch it from him and hold it over your head. This creates a challenge that he’s bound to accept, resulting in a jumping, snapping dog. Instead, hold the item close to you, move towards your dog and make eye contact. Say ‘no’ with a deep, matter-of-fact tone.
- You make the rules – You determine which games to play. You decide when you will play. Never allow your dog to bark or thrust toys at you. Incorporate commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “fetch” into your games. The reward for good behavior is the opportunity to play the game.
Successfully Housetraining Your Dog
Housetraining your new puppy can seem impossible at first, but there is a trick that makes it an easy feat. The key is prevention, and the best method is following your puppy’s lead. As with all types of training, there are certain steps that you can take to ensure success.
Take your new pet to the veterinarian for a urine and fecal check, suggests Robin Kovary, helpline director and canine behavioral consultant of the American Dog Trainers Network. The examination will determine if there are physical issues – such as cystitis, bladder infections, or worms – which may interfere with your housetraining efforts.
What goes in, must come out; and it may seem that your pup only eats, sleeps, and eliminates. Be sure to feed your pet quality dog food. Read our article on dog food (http://www.5stardog.com/dog-food.asp) for tips on the best foods. When switching from one brand to another, be sure to do it slowly over 4 to 7 days, mixing both kinds until the old kind is gradually faded out.
Paper Training Your Dog
Once you have removed any outside factors, it is time to concentrate on the actual training of your dog. There are two major methods for preventing accidents when you are away from your pet: paper training or crate training. Paper training, a passive form of training, involves confining your puppy to a small room that is lined with newspaper. Don’t forget his food, water, and chew toys. The point is to teach him to go only on the paper. Initially, the whole room will be covered in newspaper, and Fido will eliminate everywhere. Additionally, he’ll play with the papers, get into anything within reach, and often miss the papers altogether. Do not punish your pup – he’s still learning! Eventually, he’ll begin to only go in one particularly place. You’ll be able to remove most of the papers, and leave only those in his “bathroom place.” If he misses the papers, you’ve reduced the area too soon, warns Gwen Bohnenkamp of PuppyPaws.com.
Once your pup is regularly using the papers, you can begin to move them to the location of your choice. This process takes time and patience. Only move the papers an inch or two a day. Expect setbacks.
Crate Training Your Dog
Crate training is often preferred to paper training. It is cleaner, can be used as a travel kennel, and may satisfy your dog’s “need for a den-like enclosure,” according to Kovary. Crate training is a viable option for when you will only be leaving your dog for a short amount of time. Never crate your puppy for longer than a few hours.
The reason that crate training is so effective is that animals have an aversion to soiling in their sleeping area. Crating reduces the chances that your pet will eliminate until you have the opportunity to take him outside. Also, because you will be outside with your pet as he “does his business,” you’ll be able to reinforce this desired behavior with praise.
Remember that housetraining is just like any other type of training. It is essential that you reward the correct behavior – with praise, attention, treats, or games. Punishment – be it physical or verbal – is counterproductive. Don’t ever punish submissive urination, which is involuntary. Any type of training takes patience, and you should always expect setbacks. The more time you spend with your dog, the easier it will be to train him.
Crate Training Step By Step
Kovary recommends that you should begin by allowing your pup to get used to the crate. Leave the door open or even take the top off to allow Fido the chance to explore. Place his toys in the back of the crate. Be sure that the toys are not a choking hazard. Attach a small “hamster-type water dispenser” to the side. Include soft bedding – a blanket or towel; but remove it if your pet chews on it, urinates on it, or seems to prefer sleeping on the floor of the crate. It is better to keep the crate in a central location in the home to help the dog feel more at ease with it.
When first introducing your pet to the crate, do not just shove him into it. He will never feel safe and comfortable if he is forced inside the enclosure. If left to his own whims, curiosity will cause him to enter the crate; and if you leave a treat hidden inside, he’ll be more apt to return again. Praise your dog every time he enters the crate. Once he is comfortable with it, then you can begin closing the door behind him. At first, do not leave him alone while he’s in the crate and only put him in for very short periods to start. Kovary points out that this will prevent the association of crating meaning being left alone.
At bedtime, you will need to crate your pup. If you’ve done it right, Fido will happily sleep in his crate without whining, so long as you place it nearby, preferably beside the bed. If he barks or cries in the crate, then you have moved too quickly.
Kovary recommends the following age guidelines for crating:
9 – 10 Weeks
Approximately 30 – 60 minutes
11 – 14 Weeks
Approximately 1 – 3 hours
15 – 16 Weeks
Approximately 3 – 4 hours
Approximately 4 – 6 hours
Except for overnight, neither puppies nor dogs should be crated for more than six hours at a time.
Crating does not work with some dogs. Pet store puppies and other dogs that have been forced to urinate and defecate in their sleeping area during early developmental phases will not benefit from crate training. For young puppies and pet store animals, Kovary recommends an alternative method of confinement. Use the passive newspaper technique in a small room or hallway. Block off entrances using child’s safety gates rather than a solid barricade which prevents your pup from seeing into the rest of the house and creates a “locked in” feel. Don’t forget to leave food and water available.
Additional Crating Tips by Kovary
- Always remove your puppy’s collar prior to crating as it could get caught on the cage.
- Be sure that the crate is the right size. If it’s too big, he may eliminate in it. If it is too small, he will be cramped and uncomfortable.
- Do not crate your pet if he has not relieved himself immediately before it is time to be crated.
- Do not use the crate as punishment or as a convenient place to “keep” your pet for long periods of time.
- Do not allow children inside the crate or even to bother the dog while he is inside. The crate is his room, where he can go to get away.
The quickest, easiest method of housetraining your puppy is to continually interact with him throughout the day. Be with him as much as possible. Learn his schedule – even write it down. If you know how much water he’s had, you’ll be able to guess when he needs to go. If you anticipate his needs, you can help him to learn by cutting off any chance of failure. By taking him outside before he has a chance to have an accident, you’ve reinforced the correct behavior rather than punished the mistake. Don’t forget that a puppy does not have adequate control until at least six months of age, so don’t push him.
If Fido does have an accident, just be more vigilant next time. Clean up the area and use a pet odor neutralizer; there are many different brands on the market. Don’t use ammonia-based products; they break down to urea and smell like urine to your pet. This may foster the urge to urinate in the same place again.
Whether it’s housetraining, obedience training, or even training for the show ring, remember to make it fun. Be patient, and expect mistakes. You will have to be flexible and learn from your dog before he can begin to learn from you.