Training your dog is the path to effective communication between you and your dog. Fundamental to a great relationship with your dog is the ability for you and they, two individuals of different species, to be able to communicate clearly. As soon as you bring home your new four-legged companion, it is important to start this line of communication.
The way dogs learn is very simple. If their behaviour gets them an outcome they like, they will continue to do this behaviour. If their behaviour gets them an outcome they don’t like, they are less likely to behave in this way again. When training, we use reinforcement (reward) and correction (punishment) to provide the outcome to the dog’s behaviour.
Dogs, like people, are motivated in different ways. Some dogs like to be rewarded with food, whilst others prefer to play a game. Some dogs feel punished by being spoken to sternly, whilst others feel punished by being removed from our company (“sin-binned”, like the “naughty step” for little kids). These are just a few examples of correction for a dog. This can also change depending on how the dog feels at the time, and the behaviour we are working on training. For example, your dog may love to be rewarded with food but will likely not consider a treat a reward if their belly is full from breakfast! If your dog loves to work for food but we have just asked them for quite a difficult behaviour, one treat is also probably not going to be much of a reward – imagine going to work for a week and your boss only paying you for one day!
The most important thing to remember here is that what is rewarding (or punishing) is how the dog perceives it – not how we perceive it.
Often we as humans can reinforce a dog’s behaviour without even realising it. For example, consider a dog who jumps on people. What is the dog trying to achieve here? The dog is looking for attention. What do we do when the dog jumps on us? We push the dog away and tell them to get down. What have we given the dog? By touching them and talking to them, we’ve given them the attention they were looking for! The dog likes the outcome, so will continue to behave in this way.
Learning takes place over time. In most instances, dogs need multiple repetitions to understand the consequence of their behaviour. Initially these repetitions are done in a low distraction, familiar environment. Once the dog understands what we want in this environment, we increase the difficulty by taking the training to new places and increasing the level of distraction. This means that to train your dog well, you need to put in the practice!
Dog training (and communicating) with your dog can seem complicated and it can be frustrating to work out the why’s and how’s of your training. If you are feeling overwhelmed, are struggling to stop a problematic behaviour or just want to teach your dog some good manners or cool behaviours, chat with a professional trainer. With a clear training plan, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve!
If you feel you need some direction or assistance with training your dog get in touch via the contact page to discuss the best training options for you and your dog.