When you’re thinking about training your dog, there’s only just a few things to keep in mind. What do I want to teach my dog how to do? What treat do they like best? Have a marker so they know when they’re going something correct, as well as incorrect. And that’s it. Right?
At the base level, the answer is yes, but if you decide to look more closely, there are more things to take into account.
1. What breed of dog am I working with? Just like every person is completely different than the one standing next to them, every dog varies from the next in what is going to motivate it and grab it’s attention.
Dogs from the Herding group, such as the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), the Collie, or the Sheepdog, used to pay attention to the smallest of details when they were working. So, it stands to reason that when you’re working with these dogs, you want to make sure that you have their attention and you’re not working in a distracting environment where any small moment from anything else can’t grant heir attention away from you.
There’s the Terrier group, whose background included chasing rodents and small annoyances. When working with this pup, again, you’ll want to make sure that you have their focus. You’ll also want to make sure that you have your patience cap on since they have enough sass as a three and four year old child.
The point here is that you need to make sure that whatever attributes your dog has to work with, you’re using those to help you train, not allow them to hinder you and your dog.
2. Where am I training? Is it to distracting? I don’t know if you know this or not but our dogs tend to be a bit, well, distracted, by everything from the scoundrel squirrel jumping from tree to tree, to a butterfly. When you’re working with your dog, you need to make sure that YOU are the most important thing in front of them. This might mean that if they’re attention is pulled to something else, you need to tap them on the rear, clap your hands, and back peddle until they start following you and are focused on you.
OR, are you trying to train BOTH of the dogs that are in your household at the same time. I can tell you from experience that it’s not always going to work. First you have the distraction of one dog to another, then you have the possible food envy between the two, then there’s the fact that maybe one finds one type of reward more satisfying than the other. There are a lot of factors to think about when working with both of your dogs together and, like I said, it’s not ALWAYS going to turn positively.
3.Am I using a marker to let the dog know that they’re doing what I want them to do correctly? This is a pretty simple one, and one of the most important to think about when you’re training. If your dog does not know what is correct and what isn’t, they’re going to be shooting from the hip, hoping they get lucky.
How motivated do you think you would be HOPING you got lucky and got that reward? Do you think it would be more beneficial to let your dog know so the training would progress faster? That way they “won” more and more and got the goods on a more consistent basis.
If you haven’t been using a marker, I would suggest using one, just to see if it does make a difference. What have you got to lose?
4.Does the dog understand the physical act of what you want them to do? It’s important for your dog to understand the physical act of what you actually want the behavior to look like when performing a task or behavior. If you name it too soon, or allow your dog to insert their own weird nuances into the behaviors, the end result won’t look the way you want it to and your dog might have a hard time getting rid of the actions that aren’t supposed to be there.
A good example of this is when a trainer is teaching a dolphin to jump out of the water. They jump just fine but at the top of every jump, the dolphin arches its back and throws it’s rostrum (nose) into the air. That’s an example of a ghost, or phantom, behavior.
5.Am I using a reward that is satisfying enough to the dog? If your dog doesn’t find the reward to be high enough value, the likelihood that they’ll continue working for you drops.
When I say reward, it doesn’t always have to be a treat. It can be playing with you. It could be a toy that they love like a ball or something with a squeaker. It could be love and affection. Food is a GREAT reinforcer but different dogs have different motivators. We don’t get to decide the value of things. Our dogs do.
6.Is the dog motivated to work for me? If your dog isn’t motivated to do what YOU want them to do, it’s up to you to turn them on and get them motivated. When we’re motivated to do something, there’s a definite reward, or end result, that we’re trying to achieve. We also pay very close attention so we can “win” faster and get to that end result faster.
it’s the same with your dog. if they’re not wanting to work for you, you may need to use a difference reinforcer like a higher value treat or a toy they ONLY get when they’re training and working for you. You may need to change up your pay out cycle of rewards.
7.Is my dog engaged with me and not possibly another dog in the house or with the environment around it? This is very similar to making sure that you’re training in the right environment, but there’s a difference in making sure that your dog isn’t distracted AND making sure that your dog is engaged with you and what you’re doing.
Making sure that your dog is engaged means that your dog is following your movements, they’re actively ENGAGING in working with you and interacting with you.
My dog can be totally focused on something across the street that’s moving but not engaging in it.
8.Are you asking too much too soon? This one is just making sure that you’re moving in incremental steps that are understandable and doable for your dog. If you’re moving too fast and asking too much too soon, you’re setting your dog up for failure which means that you’re not going to get the end results that you want.
Your dog dictates the pace at which you move with your training. And lets face it, it’s not a race but a journey. One dig might take two sessions to get to the end result of a particular behavior. Another might take two weeks. Now ask yourself which one won. The answer is both because they both got the end result they were looking for. Yes one got there faster but who cares. Now there dogs KNOW what is expected of them when they hear that certain command.
I hope there tips gave you some food for thought and I hope you’re able to think about and possibly implement them into your training.
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As always, show your dog some love today, and Happy Training!