Training

Introduction

Good training plays a crucial role to ensure a happy and successful relationship between you and your dog. Through training your dog will learn to understand what his human companions expect of him and be better equipped to fit into his environment. On the other hand, the better you understand your dog’s behaviour, the more rewarding your relationship will be.

What makes the dog such a favoured companion for man is that dogs, like man, are social animals. It is natural for a dog to live and interact within a group. Problems can, however, arise when we place human values upon dogs, and we should remember that dogs are dogs and not people.

The most important thing in dog training is to reward good behaviour and ignore unwanted behaviour.

What we often consider to be a ‘bad dog’ is, in fact, a normal dog behaviour that is being carried out at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Take, for example, digging. You would have no problem with a dog digging on the beach or in a field, but it would be a different story if he dug up a favourite flowerbed or the lawn. All of this must be taken into consideration before blaming the dog for what he understands as normal behaviour.

Before looking into any behaviour/training problem you must first ask yourself – why is my dog doing this? We have the advantage over the dog in that we have the ability to understand canine values but he cannot understand ours. Therefore when tying to understand your dog’s behaviour you should base your conclusion purely on the dog’s values. It is not necessary to resort to punishment, but by understanding the dog he can be trained more easily

Although now domesticated, dogs of today still require a group or pack structure like their ancestors and wild relatives. Some dogs will naturally choose to follow, others will try to lead. However, in the canine-human pack it is imperative that the dog understands that he is lower ranking than any human, including children. And this understanding can be achieved through effective training.

One way in which dogs will communicate the hierarchy within a canine pack is by adhering to very basic rules. One example is that the “top dog” will eat first and rest in the best places, if he chooses to. These rules can be replicated in the human-canine relationship. One simple way of establishing and maintaining you and your family’s “top dog” status is by controlling the games you and your dog play. This means, for example, that you should always take possession of the toy at the end of play.

Dogs do not communicate like people. The dog to dog language is very different from the person to person language, and it is up to us human beings to try and learn how dogs communicate. Whilst people communicate mostly verbally, dogs communicate by way of signs and signal, by body language. To be effective trainers we need to read and understand our dogs’ body language.

Communicating with your puppy

Pack animals, including your puppy, are skilled at reading the signals of others. It is through this communication that your puppy gets to know you. You may be surprised at what you are unintentionally communicating to your puppy through your posture, eye contact and tone of voice.

Posture

Bending over a puppy to pat him might be meant as a friendly gesture but a puppy may interpret it as a threat. Why? Dogs establish hierarchy through non-verbal communication. A dominant dog may make himself as tall as he can be when approaching another dog and may even rest his paw on the other dog’s back upon reaching him. The second dog reacts by either accepting the dominant dog’s action or by reacting aggressively.

How does this information help you in your relationship with your puppy? By understanding the dynamics of the pack you understand how your puppy may react to your actions. How you approach your puppy is especially important upon first meeting him, and for initial meetings with other puppies.

Fearful puppies will feel more comfortable with a person who is sitting down and may approach a seated person but back away from someone who is standing. To approach a puppy in a friendly manner crouch so you are closer in height to the puppy.

Eye contact

Dogs usually avoid eye contact with each other unless they are issuing a threat. Making and holding eye contact with your puppy may be interpreted as an aggressive act. An aggressive puppy may react by growling, while a more submissive puppy may be fearful.

Tone of voice

The tone of your voice communicates a lot to your puppy, more than the actual words do. Try an experiment. Say the same sentence to your puppy using different tones. Your puppy will usually mirror your tone of voice in his actions. For example, if you speak in a happy voice your puppy will usually react playfully.

Puppies can learn a number of words such as “sit” or “stop” but they will not understand the words when strung together in a sentence. If the word has a hard consonant sound, such as “sit” or “stay,” puppies have an easier time learning it. However, they rely more on non-verbal communication.

Your puppy gets to know you by your body language and tone. It’s important to think about what you may be communicating unintentionally. The more you understand your puppy the better your relationship with him will be.

Toilet Training Your Puppy

House training rarely presents a problem with puppies who have been reared under normal conditions, as a puppy reared with his mother until 6 or 7 weeks of age will have learnt to move away from his sleeping area to go to the toilet. Puppies instinctively want to be clean and very few puppies will foul their sleeping area if given the choice.

A young puppy needs to urinate and defaecate frequently as he has a very small bladder and bowel. This gives you as a puppy owner plenty of opportunity to praise your puppy for performing in the right area, allowing him to learn quickly. Do not punish your puppy for doing wrong. It is your responsibility to ensure that you take your puppy to the chosen toilet area as frequently as he needs to go, generally as soon as he wakes up, after every meal and at hourly intervals. Take your puppy outside, wait with him until he performs and then praise him by giving him a snack or playing with him. Whilst he is learning, it is essential that you wait with him, so that you can praise him at the correct time. Young puppies will inevitably have ‘accidents’. It is important to ignore these, and to clean up well so that the smell does not linger, as this may encourage him to repeat the performance on the same spot. Do not scold your dog for mistakes, but rather reward him when he is correct and he will soon want to go outside.

It is also possible to train your dog to urinate and defaecate on command. As he performs, add the words that you choose such as “be quick” or “busy”. Your dog will then build up an association of the word with the action. It is important that you only say the words as he is actually performing. Toileting on command is very useful, as dog owners have a duty to prevent their dogs from fouling indiscriminately. Teaching your dog to toilet in your garden before you leave your home can help to prevent accidents in parks or pavements. Additionally, always ensure that you carry a scoop so that if your dog does defaecate in a public place, you can clear up.

House breaking puppy

Now that you’ve brought him home, here are some basic tips to stop him soiling your house.

  1. When inside, closely supervise your dog. If can’t be with him, confine him to a small area or exercise pen during house training. Continue this until he has gone at least 4-8 weeks without any accidents.
  2. Always accompany him outside to eliminate.
  3. Take him out frequently, especially after eating, sleeping, and play activities.
  4. Immediately reward outdoor elimination with praise and treats. Do it as soon as he has finished. (If you wait until back inside, he will think the reward is for coming back inside.) Consider keeping a jar of treats near the door as a reminder to take a few on your way outside.
  5. Provide an area for elimination that is protected from rain and bad weather.
  6. If you catch him eliminating inside, startle him with a loud noise and immediately take him outside to finish eliminating. Then, once again, reward your dog immediately.
  7. Clean soiled inside areas with enzymatic cleaners. These can be purchased at pet supply stores. You need to eliminate the smell so he doesn’t associate indoors with elimination.
  8. Don’t punish when he slips up. This is rarely effective. Instead reward good behavior.

Seriously consider puppy kindergarten and obedience classes. They will help teach him basic commands and that you are the alpha, or top, dog in the household. They also provide positive interaction between you and your dog. Trainers of these classes can be an invaluable source of information for housebreaking and other behavior modifications. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a behaviorist in your area. Be sure to choose someone who uses reward- or clicker-based training.

Socialisation

Socialisation is the term describing the process by which a dog learns to relate to people, other dogs and his environment. Your dog will carry on learning throughout his whole life, however, puppy hood is the time when experiences – good or bad – have an optimum impact. These experiences are critical for your puppy’s future and will have a long lasting effect on his behaviour throughout his life.

When acquiring a puppy, ensure that you have time to invest in an intensive socialisation programme during his early weeks with you. Socialising your puppy is very important and a worthwhile investment into your and your puppy’s future, as you are laying the foundation for the dog’s behaviour later on in life, and prevention is much better than cure. Additionally, this is also great fun and you will be getting to know your puppy very well during this time.

It is essential that you start the socialisation programme as soon as you acquire your puppy. Following your puppy’s vaccination programme is often seen as a hindrance to socialisation, but with some imagination this can be done without compromising his vaccinations. Much of the early socialisation can be done in your home. Additionally, the risk of your puppy contracting an infectious disease can be minimised by carrying him when he is outside your home.

Identify situations and environments that your puppy will need to be comfortable with, such as riding in the car, meeting the postman, having contact with the children next door (and children in general), walking along the street, tolerating large lorries and cars, horses, vacuum cleaners, washing machines – to name just a few. You are basically aiming at preparing your puppy for all eventualities, so that whenever he encounters anyone or anything new, he will greet it with inquisitiveness rather than fear or aggression. Expose your puppy to all sights and sounds gradually and allow him to explore and learn for himself; for example, switch on the vacuum cleaner in another room to avoid startling him by a sudden loud noise and let him go to find it. Ensure that when he finds it, it is rewarding rather than threatening. You can simply do this by placing a piece of food next to the vacuum cleaner. If your puppy is quite shy and frightened, you can start off by having a snack next to the switched off vacuum cleaner, and then work your way towards your puppy tolerating it when it is switched on.

It is essential that your dog is fully comfortable to be with people and children, so introduce him to all sorts of different people. Let him meet people of all descriptions – bearded, thin, overweight, tall, wearing hats or glasses, carrying bags, pushing bicycles, etc. When taking your puppy for a walk, take some tasty snacks with you and ask people to give one to your puppy, and your puppy will soon learn that all people are friendly (You can incoorporate some basic training into this by teaching him to sit before people give him a snack – this will prevent him jumping up at strangers).

If you don’t have any children, borrow some for short periods of time! It is, however, important that children are taught the rules of handling puppies, and an adult should always supervise children and dogs. Children may be seen as a different species to adults by dogs, as they move differently, speak differently and react differently to adults. Start slowly by spending time in and around children’s parks where your puppy will learn the sights and sounds of children playing, then ask the children to come and interact with your puppy wherever possible. Start by having just a few children around your puppy, then build up to a larger number.

It is, of course, unrealistic and even impossible to expose your young dog to everything that he is likely to meet in his future years. However, if you can teach him that new experiences are pleasant, he will grow up learning that unknown things and situations are something to explore, rather than to be fearful of. But do not be surprised if your previously confident puppy starts to show apprehension towards objects that he was previously fine with during his juvenile period (at approximately 14 months of age, dependant on the breed), since this can be normal in some dogs at this age. If this occurs, it is important that you carry on with your socialisation programme by re-exposing the young dog to novel experiences on a regular basis.

It is also essential that your puppy learns to interact with other dogs correctly. Puppies, like all young animals, love to play and games play a vital part of a dog’s development. Dogs develop their canine communication skills through playing with other dogs as puppies. Bite inhibition is one behaviour, which is taught through play. When puppies play physical games, they soon learn that a litter mate or adult dog will not tolerate sharp teeth pulling on ears or necks. If a puppy “bites” another dog too hard, he will get a quick reprimand and the other dog stops the game for a brief moment. A puppy soon learns to inhibit the strength of his “bites” and will cease to bite too hard when playing with other dogs. You and your family should continue the teaching of bite inhibition. Whenever your puppy uses his teeth on your skin, you should respond with a sharp yelp of pain (even if it does not hurt!), as this will teach your puppy to learn that touching human skin with his teeth is not allowed, no matter how gentle he is. Additionally, the game you and your puppy were playing should cease momentarily, and your puppy will quickly learn that in order to continue having fun he must not “bite” you.

One way of getting good socialisation with other dogs and puppies is by attending so called ‘puppy parties’ at your local veterinary clinic or your local dog training group, where your puppy can meet other dogs (and other people) in a friendly and structured environment.

Positive Reinforcement

Training plays a crucial role to ensure a happy and successful relationship between you and your dog. The foundations for a happy, well-adjusted dog are laid down during the early stages of puppy hood with a well structured training programme, which should be fun for both you and your dog. There are many methods of training, but the most satisfying for both you and your dog are methods based on positive reinforcement. This means that the dog is rewarded for correct actions.

To train a dog most effectively we need to understand how dogs learn. Learning in the ‘doggy world’ consists of trying out new behaviours and seeing what happens as a consequence of this behaviour. If the behaviour (action) is followed by a good consequence, this behaviour will be repeated. One example could be begging at the table which is rewarded by getting food. If the behaviour (e.g. the begging) is, however, followed by a negative consequence (in this case, no food given), the behaviour will eventually be stopped. Effective training should work on the same principle and should be a combination of information (what you want the dog to do), motivation (a reason for your dog to do it), and timing (when to reward a good action).

‘Clicker Training’ encompasses the principle of positive reinforcement. A ‘clicker’ is a small plastic box containing a strip of metal, which produces a ‘click’ when pressed. The vital first step to ‘Clicker Training’ is finding the dog’s motivation, which for most individuals tends to be a tasty snack or play. The next step is to associate a positive meaning to the ‘click’, telling the dog ‘Yes, this is right, you have done the right thing and a reward will follow’. The first stage is therefore to associate the sound of the ‘click’ with something positive. This information needs to be delivered within very short timing (within seconds). To do this you need to give a click followed by a reward many times during several short sessions until your dog can consistently make the association.

A simple exercise to try with your puppy with the ‘Clicker Training’ method is teaching him to sit:

  • Hold a treat in your hand and wait for the puppy’s bottom to touch the floor. Be patient, do not be tempted to give a command or place the puppy into a sit. Wait until he eventually sits by himself.
  • As soon as your puppy’s bottom touches the floor, click and give him a snack.
  • Repeat this a number of times in short training sessions in a variety of locations.
  • Then begin to say ‘sit’ as your puppy’s bottom touches the floor. Continue to give a click and treat. Your dog is now learning that sit does indeed mean putting his bottom on the floor, because he only hears this word when he is in a sitting position.
  • After the above has been repeated a number of times (40 – 80 times over several short sessions), you can begin to ask your puppy to sit, i.e. give the command before his bottom is on the floor. Continue giving a click and a snack as the puppy sits. But only ask your puppy to sit if you are confident that he will do so.
  • Now your puppy knows what sit means; the clicker is no longer needed for this command, but carry on rewarding intermittently with snacks when he sits on command.

There are many methods of training, and ‘Clicker Training’ is just one of these. The principle of positive reinforcement should, however, be adhered to all methods. In summary, we should aim to reward everything, which is positive, desirable behaviour and ignore any negative, undesirable behaviour. In practice it is not always easy to ignore all negative behaviour. Jumping up at visitors, for instance, is an undesirable behaviour, which is difficult to ignore. It would be useful to distract the dog from an undesirable behaviour by asking him for a desirable one, for example to sit. If the dog is then rewarded for sitting, he will find that sitting is more satisfying than jumping up.

Is getting another dog for my dog a good idea?

Are you hoping to cure a behavioral issue with your dog?

Many dog owners hope that a canine companion will help their dog cope with separation anxiety when they go out. If their current dog is energetic, they hope a friend will help him to burn off energy. The truth is, another dog is not likely to change that behavior. The new dog may actually be more apt to learn these negative behaviors from the first dog.

Are you looking to reduce the time you need to spend with your dog?

If you don’t have enough time to spend with your dog, it’s unrealistic to think a second dog can fill in the gaps. While dogs are social creatures and most love to play with other dogs, your dog will still need human company and his daily walk with you. You’ll also need to spend one-on-one time with your new dog to bond with him and train him.

Are you prepared for twice the expenses?

While two dogs can absolutely be twice the fun, it also means double expenses of food, veterinary care and grooming. You may also have to factor in double the vacuuming, twice the barking and the increased bill for boarding when you go out of town.

If you’ve considered all these factors and believe that you’re ready, willing and able to love, train and care for another dog, great. If you’re not sure, it’s probably best to postpone the second dog until you’re confident you can provide the attention he or she will need.

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