I have just spent the last three days in a conference room listening to, I think, one of the best dog trainers in the world give his seminar. Dr Ian Dunbar was in Sydney and Melbourne giving a seminar on Science Based Dog Training With Feeling, for me, this title says it all. It says that in recent years people have been bombarded with so much information on how to train their dogs that many of us have become almost robotic in the way we interact with our dogs because we are too scared to trust ourselves. As a dog trainer I learned many technical lessons during the last three days, but I wanted to reiterate some of what Dunbar said that was geared towards the average person trying to train their dog.
Play Games With Your Dog
I have written a number of articles on this, if you are having fun with your dog you become the centre of their attention. Start playing games with them like chase (with a toy), tug and fetch. All of these games have you at the centre of them and it will strengthen the bond with your dog. Choose a game you think your dog will love and start playing with them, every day. This does not require any serious commands, anyone can do it. Over time you will invent your own games with your dog and you will be the most interesting thing at the park for them. Start at home and then move to more distracting areas.
Reinforce The Behaviours You Like
Easy, easy, easy. Anytime you see your dog doing something you like, feed them. You can even stop feeding your dog from their food bowl, from now on everything comes from your hand, this gives you lots of opportunities to reinforce good behaviour. This kind of reinforcement will increase the likelihood of your dog offering the same behaviour. Do not take good behaviour for granted, if your dog is laying down sleeping now, bend down and drop a treat in front of their nose or calmly tell them how good they are and how proud of them you are. You will be surprised just how many times a day your dog is good.
Be Instructive With Your Corrections
If your dog is jumping and you do not want them doing this, ask them to ‘sit’. No trainer can ever be completely positive in their instruction, sometimes we have to correct our dogs, I wrote an article on corrections not long ago. Think about what you want your dog to do and ask them to do it. A correction does not have to be harsh or violent. Watch your dog for any sign of impending misbehaviour and request that they do something else. Telling your dog ‘no’ is not an instruction, insisting your dog gets ‘off’ the bench is. Just like us, dogs need to know when they are doing something wrong, but they also need information on what the right behaviour is. Take the time to teach your dog the right behaviour so that when they are distracted they can comply.
Phase Out Your Training Food
Life rewards such as playing with other dogs and being off leash are probably the best rewards you can give to your dog- use them to your advantage. Using food to train a behaviour is an excellent idea, however many people continue to use the promise of food for a behaviour, this is a bribe. Once your dog has learned a behaviour (this may only take a few repetitions) you can now use your voice and hand signals (no food present) to request a behaviour and then reinforce it with food, or better yet, a run with some other dogs. So many dogs are great at sitting before being let off leash, why? Because the reward, being let off lead, is so heavy. Ask your dog to ‘sit’ as many times as you want during a walk and reward them with a ‘ok, go and play now’.
Science based dog training with feeling is what we need to return to with our pet dogs. Allow your trainer to worry about the science behind the training and you should concentrate on injecting some feeling in to the training. You should be having fun, reinforcing good behaviours, being instructive with your corrections and phasing out your food so you can communicate with your dog much more effectively.