How to Make Dog Training More Enjoyable
18 November, 2014
Guest Blog by Jordan Walker
Anyone who takes care of a dog will want his or her dog to be well behaved and obedient. To achieve these important qualities, a dog needs to undergo training. When a human mentions training, the brain immediately associates it with serious demeanor where the person focuses intently on learning what is being taught.
However, a serious, unsmiling approach seldom works when it comes to training dogs (even with humans, for that matter). To be able to train effectively, a dog owner will need to sustain the dog’s interest in the activity. Although prompt responses to commands are expected of a well-trained dog, getting all serious and stern will not be very effective training. The best way to get a dog to respond eagerly to anything is to retain its attention using food and fun.
Understand How Dogs Learn
In order to train a dog effectively, an owner needs to understand how a dog learns its tricks. A dog learns primarily by association. Dogs are eager to please. They love to receive praise and strive to do the things that bring rewards. Conversely, they feel bad when they do something that does not please their masters. An owner can take advantage of these canine traits by associating the behaviors they want their dogs to learn with reward, like a treat (food or toy), affection, or both. On the other hand, if an owner does not want to encourage certain behaviors in a dog, they simply take away the reward and/or ignore a dog. An owner should never get into the habit of physically punishing the dog. First of all, physical punishment hurts. Second, pain is unnecessary for a dog to learn its lessons. Third of all, pain takes away the fun in the learning exercise.
Apply Consequences Immediately
Unlike humans, dogs cannot make connections between events that are separated by time. They keep their attention to the now, in the present. So that a dog may learn the approved behaviors quicker, an owner must train the dog by applying the consequences of its actions, that is, getting a reward or not, immediately. If it does something good, the reward should be implemented right away to enable the dog to associate the reward with the behavior. The opposite holds true: when a dog does wrong, the consequence (no reward or getting ignored) should be immediately demonstrated.
Consistency is Key
It is important that the consequence should immediately follow the act. Otherwise, the lesson is lost on the dog. Say a dog sits when told then pees behind the couch right after. If the owner gives the reward for sitting only after the dog pees, the dog will associate the reward with the peeing, not with the sitting. In addition, consequences should be consistently applied. A dog learns by repetitive association. If the owner cannot establish a consistent action-consequence approach, the dog won’t be able to learn what is expected of it effectively. When a dog meets other people, the owner should advise them on how to interact with the dog consistent with its training.
Keep Sessions Short But Sweet
Dogs have short attention spans. Training times should be kept short but sweet and in a location free of potential and ongoing distractions. They can also become bored or inattentive if the session goes on too long. The length of training depends on the dog but should probably not go beyond 15 minutes. So that a dog enjoys training and looks forward to it, an owner should know what treats, toys, and games to employ that will hold the dog’s interest.
All’s Well That Starts and Ends Well
Training time should be approached with a lighthearted attitude. Although the lessons are important, the dog will learn best if it has fun doing so. A dog can sense its master’s mood even before the session begins. On this note, an owner should probably not undertake dog training when stressed, troubled, or tense. When the training does go well, it’s better to quit while ahead. The session should end on a pleasant note, before either owner or dog gets tired, bored, or frustrated.
Take Baby Steps
Dogs will learn better if tasks are broken into small steps. When an owner is just beginning to teach a skill, he/she can start by instructing the dog in short intervals and gradually increase the time with repetition. Sometimes, an owner will require a dog to learn a more complex skill. It is better to divide it into parts, then teaching each part one at a time until the time comes when the parts can be put together. As the dog learns, the difficulty can be gradually increased.
Tips on Treats
Treats form an important component of effective and fun training. When looking for a dog treat, an owner should choose what most appeals to his/her dog’s palate while making sure that it is appropriate to give a dog. When shopping for treats at the supermarket, it’s best to read the label to ensure the treat is free of harmful ingredients. Treats that are made from whole foods and free of preservatives are best.
As well, some foods like organ meats can be very palatable to a dog. Humans may not love these meats, but dogs will. Another important note to keep in mind, many human foods are toxic to dogs. When deciding to use human-grade foods as treats, an owner should know whether it is safe for a dog to consume to prevent poisoning. Finally, for treats to be effective in training, they should be given sparingly and should not be a regular component of a dog’s meals. Trainings are thus probably best scheduled in between feedings.
Dogs are very intelligent and are willing to work for what a master wants from them. They may not understand language, but can associate those bits of language with the behaviors expected of them. By taking advantage of a dog’s natural learning method and combining it with food and fun, any owner can produce obedient, well-behaved dogs.
Author: Jordan Walker
Jordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages, as well as a couple of other pet related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages.