Getting training for your dog doesn’t just mean that a trainer works with your dog and just like that, all problems are fixed. Even if you were to take your dog to a board and train program, issues would be sure to resurface if the same standards were not held once he got home. Imagine sending your kids to school, where they learn math. But once they got home they were taught that 2+2=7. They would be confused. Since your dog is learning during every interaction with your family, that would be like doing math all night until bedtime. Imagine trying to take a math test after that!
Dogs that suffer from inconsistent commands at home cannot pass the test either. Training is about helping dogs to realize what the right choice is, and helping them consistently making that choice. So, although dog owners do not need to become dog trainers, being a great handler will make the training process much easier for both you and your dog!
Be Consistent. If you wouldn’t let them do it during training class or at your grandmother’s house, don’t let them do it at home, on a walk, or in the park. Unless your dog is receiving consistent corrections and rewards, he isn’t going to learn exactly what behaviors you do and do not want from him. Asking your dog to have a set of behaviors for different circumstances is asking a lot of your dog, so help them out!
Ask questions. If you are a newbie, or even if you are not, ask questions of your trainer and do your research. Sometimes understanding the “why” behind a direction that your trainer tells you will bring the concept full-circle or expose inter-workings of your dog’s mind that may be apparent to your trainer, but never occurred to you.
Keep them working. A working dog is a happy dog! No, I don’t mean make your dog pull a cart all day or do your laundry. But a dog that knows its responsibility and place in the family is more calm, content, and happy than a dog who is left to his own devices. Training occurs every moment you spend with your dog, but that doesn’t mean you must constantly be running through commands on a longline in the park. While you are working, cooking, or taking care of the children, have your dog hold a simple place command for an extended period of time will keep them mentally stimulated, learning, and understanding their role in the family.
Read: Place Command: Your Best Friends’ Best Friend
Ask your people-pack to help. Make sure that family members living with your dog are all on the same page regarding your expectations of your dog, encouraged behaviors, and discouraged behaviors will ensure consistency and your dog’s understanding that they don’t only have to listen to one person in the family. If you are working on curbing jumping, when friends come over ask them to make sure your dog is in a sit before they acknowledge or pet them. Eventually, your dog’s behavior will become automatic, but during training, the more consistent messages they receive, the faster the magic will happen.
Tone down the snuggles. Trust me, there are few people in the world that love to snuggle with their dog more than I do, so I know what your face looks like as you read this. But with an ounce of faith, read on. Dogs that view their owners as a soft presence are less likely to respect them. When a dog doesn’t get advocated for, he advocates for himself. Translation, your dog doesn’t understand that you are the protector of him, not the other way around, so he is reactive towards dogs or people on walks, freaks out when new people come to your house, and listens to his instincts before he listens to you. If you give high affection, you need to be strict with the rules. Like really strict, so you dog understands the family dynamic.
Learn from your mistakes. People often say “I think I ruined my dog.” You may have, and most people have, including myself, but not permanently. So you talk to her every time she whines (guilty), or cuddle her when she is scared, or give her a treat to curb her reactivity. All you are doing is telling your dog that you approve of that behavior. It doesn’t have to be the end, though! Once you realize that you have rewarded bad behavior, you don’t have to keep rewarding it. Even if your dog is 13 years old, you can still turn things around.
Make rewards and corrections meaningful. You get pulled over by a cop for going 90 mph in a 55 mph zone. The cop gets out of his car and tells you he doesn’t think you should be going that fast, but have a good day. Are you going to learn anything? Absolutely not. There was no consequence, and he did nothing but tell you something you already knew in a kind way. The same is true when your dog steals a nibble of food off of your kitchen counter and you say “no” sternly and shoo him away. He rewarded himself with the food, and you just shooed him away. What did your dog learn here? Mom might say “no,” but there is food up there for me to take! The same is true with rewards. Make sure that the reward you are giving your dog is meaningful to them so that he is encouraged to continue the behavior.
Use your words—but only the ones he knows. There is a certain member of my family who shall not be named that loves to use the entire dictionary to command my dog. Instead of telling her “off” or “back up” when she gets too close to a loading dishwasher, which she understands completely, he (or she) says something along the line of “get the heck away from the dishwasher.” My dog does not know that command, we haven’t worked on it much, so she doesn’t listen. As a dog owner or handler, your dog will understand what you teach them, not English. So, if you want to teach your dog German, or even made up words, they will respond because that is what they understand, not because they have any meaning to the rest of us.
Firmness allows freedom. Being a leader with strict rules will change your dog, but only in the best way. Your dog will still love you, want your attention, and be as playful and goofy as he was on the first session of training as on the last. The change will appear in his stress levels. Knowing right from wrong takes the stressful idea of decision making out of your dog’s hands and into your own. Knowing that you will protect him from harm, and he will comply with your commands will allow you to give him the utmost freedom and inclusion that a dog can have. A dog that can be called off chasing a squirrel near a street can be trusted off leash. A dog that can lay in your driveway as you fix your car will have more inclusion. And a dog meeting his owner’s expectations can be invited to snuggle on the couch to watch a movie, and maybe even enjoy a few pieces of popcorn (as long as he isn’t begging, of course!)
Keep your head up! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a perfectly mannered dog isn’t either. Sometimes training is difficult. Sometimes everything goes great, but one command is difficult to nail. Or sometimes your dog has a bad day. Training can be frustrating, but when you get frustrated, your dog will, too. Realize that it takes time, and don’t expect change to be immediate, but if you are consistent there is no doubt it will happen.
Welcome to Everywhere Dog Blog!
Tips, tricks, and lessons learned from Everywhere Dog and their journey!
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