Dogs are our long-time faithful companions, but they can also be mischievous critters if left completely to their own devices. It’s important to realize that you have a responsibility to your dog and anyone who comes close to your dog. This makes training good manners and self-control and providing mental stimulation to keep your dog out of trouble during the day very important. You wouldn’t let your kids get away with not saying please and thank you, after all. So invest in dog training classes and enjoy life with a well-mannered pooch.
In a way, dog training is as important to your dog’s long-term well being as a healthy diet or exercise. Dogs who haven’t been shown what behavior is desirable may act out in ways that are risky to them or people around them. With that in mind, here are the answers to some key questions you might have about dog training, as well as a few useful dog training tips to keep in mind.
Which is most effective for dog training: Risk or reward?
There are two fundamental approaches to dog training:
- Positive-reinforcement and reward-based training, which rewards dogs for good behavior
- Traditional training, while uses force to effectively ‘cow’ the dog into following desired behavior patterns.
While it might look like force works well to change dogs’ behavior, all it does is suppresses behavior. It’s not good behavior, it’s no behavior. Dogs are so emotional that they can’t learn anything, even if you provide desired alternatives. Furthermore, employing force can have unwanted side effects. For example, if you rely on force to keep your dog under control when guests are around, it may result in them being afraid of people, rather than learning manners.
Force-free approaches are far safer and healthier, more effective and far more fun for you and your dog.
Does this mean you shouldn’t punish your dog?
Punishment may be necessary to make the dog aware of undesired behaviors. However, you don’t need to rely on physical punishment. A more effective method is to simply deny your dog rewards when they have behaved inappropriately – make the behavior stop working for your dog. As pointed out on Pets.webmd: “Most of the time, dog motivations aren’t mysterious. They simply do what works”. If they realize that a certain behavior doesn’t result in the desired outcome, they’re less likely to continue with it.
How do you reward your dog for good behavior?
The key is to reinforce good behavior to provide an incentive to repeat that behavior in future. The most obvious way to achieve this is to give your dog treats when they engage in appropriate behavior. However, a lot of pet owners make the mistake of not weaning their dog off the treats. This is problematic as it may result in a situation where the dog only behaves appropriately if bribed with food.
The idea is to reward him with treats until the behavior is learnt, and then gradually introduce other rewards, such as praise, a game or a swim. In fact, if there’s one thing a dog may love almost as much as food, it’s your positive attention. Rewarding him with positive attention when he’s good, or refusing to give him attention when he displays undesirable behavior, can be as effective as giving or denying treats. For example, if your dog is overly excited around guests and gets rough, you put him in time-out until he calms down and then bring him out again. The lesson: being over the top results in loss of reward, calm behavior results in attention which is what he wants.
Prevention is best
Sometimes you need to manage your dog’s environment so that they can’t practice undersirable behavior. You don’t give unwanted behavior a chance to occur. For example, put food away so that your dog never helps himself from the table. Be realistic about your expectations. You simply can’t expect your dog not to eat roast chicken left within reach.
It’s also important to differentiate between behaviors that need to be discouraged, and behaviors that are fundamental to doggy well-being. These need to be redirected rather than stopped outright. For example, if your dog keeps chewing on furniture, it’s not enough just to make him stop. You need to give him something else to chew on, because you can’t expect him to not act on such an intrinsic behavior.
How long does the training last?
Done property, dog training actually lasts forever, but the mistake a lot of pet owners make is thinking they only have to reinforce appropriate behavior during training sessions. In fact, if you want the good behavior to stick, you need to consistently reward the good behavior and make unwanted behavior unrewarding. If you forget this, you could end up inadvertently rewarding bad behavior, which will give your dog the wrong idea.