As a certified trainer, I start out with evaluating a few topics before I train.
The first being, is the dog healthy? I want to make sure that the dog is not in any pain or has any health issues that should be attended to before we start training. Because of this, make sure you actually put your hands on your dog every day and feel every part of his/her body. Make sure there are no “hot” spots, move their limbs gently to see if they have any pain. Check in between there pads on their paws, in their ears and mouth (brushing their teeth daily will help with this). We can’t expect them to learn anything if they are not feeling well. Have them see your Vet and get a clean bill of health.
The second, is your dog fearful or timid? If your dog is anxious, nervous or has phobias we have to address those issues as a medical problem and not a training problem. You can’t train emotion just behavior. First get your Vet involved to determine if medication is needed. If your dog has noise phobia’s you might want to train in a very quiet place and use a soft tone of voice and don’t get overly excited. Go slow or slower. Make them as comfortable as possible.
Once you have determined that your dog is healthy now let’s look at what WE can manage. Sometimes it’s much easier to manage our household than train the dog. Do we need to put up protective barriers for other animals or humans (like cats or babies)? Try to keep the areas where the dog is allowed clean of clothes, shoes, kid’s toys or anything you don’t want chewed on. Never leave food on the table or counter when you are not there are all examples of setting the dog up for success.
REMEMBER: Dog’s will ALWAYS do what get THEM the BEST STUFF!!!!
With that in mind, find out what is the BEST STUFF your dog will work for. Too many times I hear that a dog is not food motivated. ALL dogs are food motivated you just haven’t found out what that is yet. Audition many different types of treats. They should be small bite size (the size of ½ of an M&M), soft or moist and smelly. I have used grilled chicken, canned salmon, hot dogs, cheese, duck jerky, freeze-dried liver or you can purchase “Grillers” that come in all sorts of flavors. My clients love the chicken or top sirloin Premium Grillers. Once you audition treats, put them in order of the lowest value to the highest value.
Once you find out what they will work for then it’s time to go to work. Make sure that you use a high rate of reinforcement….meaning 1 small bite size piece for correct response. Also, make sure you first start training in an area with no distractions, maybe inside the house. Start training with the lowest value treat at first and work up to the highest for harder training. Again, start in a quiet area and then move to an area with a little more distractions, adding in more distractions to make it harder. Go slow and work at the dogs pace.
Make sure you don’t ask too much too soon or you will lose the dog’s interest. Stay in the game and always end on a positive note. Make your sessions short a few minutes at a time several times a day. Find opportunities to train like before going outside, before putting the food bowl down when giving them a special treat. Make everything you train into a game and have fun.
Always make sure that you are giving your dog clear concise cues. Many people use the words down and off for the same meaning and inter mingle them. Try to remember that DOWN means to lie down and OFF means to get off (get off the couch, off of me after it jumps up). If you use them both it just confuses the dog so they just don’t respond. If you have a hand signal for a hand target with fingers pointing down, make sure you always do it that way and not with fingers pointing up especially if you have taught a stay with fingers up. This may create lots of confusion and a trick question!!! Dogs require consistency so make sure you and everyone else involved in training uses the exact same cue words and hand signals.
Lastly, make sure you know how to read your dog’s body language. This is important when training or when in public so you know when your dog is frustrated, aroused or anxious. I like to recommend an excellent DVD called “The Language of Dogs” by Sarah Kalnajs, it will teach you so much more than just understanding what your dog is saying. Dogs are excellent at reading body language and they know when you are frustrated, scared, happy or sad. If you get frustrated ask for an easy behavior like Find-it or sit, reward the dog and end the session. You always want a cool calm head about you as you train to get the best out of your dog. The more relaxed and fun you are having the more engaged your dog will be.
If you run into road blocks or issues that you can’t handle, make sure you contact a certified force free trainer for assistance. So, have fun…make training a game, use great treats and be clear about what you ask for. If your dog gets this you will have a dog that wants to train and looks forward to training.