You’re lounging on your couch, snuggling with your pup when all of the sudden barks and growls break out. He springs to the door with so much force you’d think someone was trying to break in. Sigh, it’s just the mailman and this behavior happens EVERYDAY. Deciding what level of training is right for you and your dog is not always easy. Many owners would hear your problem and recommend “obedience” training. However, some dog owners see “obedience training” as marching around in circles military style. Of course, some classes are like that but most classes for the beginner are simply using typical obedience commands as a tool to teach basic teaching and handling skills. What most dog owners are looking for is simply a well-mannered, socially acceptable dog. How much work it takes to achieve that goal depends upon many factors but the most important are:
- The patience and consistency of the teaching.
- The temperament of the dog.
- The amount of time the dog has the opportunity to learn.
What to Look For
Effective training requires good timing. This is the most difficult thing for most dog owners to learn. The more time the dog spends as a member of the family the more easily it will learn social skills simply because it will have more opportunity to practice, be corrected, make mistakes and receive praise for behaving well.
Connect with Words
A critical difference between the way people learn and the way dogs learn involves the use of language. A parent can explain to their child that an action (praise or punishment) is related to an event in the past. Language connects the present action with the past event. Even more importantly language can be used to identify and describe for that child exactly what behavior merited the action. Dogs, for the most part, lack language skills. Good timing becomes critical to connect the action (your praise or correction) to the event.
Read Body Language
Your trainer should teach you to read your dog’s body language and how and when to react to it, then you will be well on your way to a polite, socially adept dog. Learning how to communicate without words is the most important basic skill you can learn in a good quality basic obedience class. If you want to teach your dog not to chase a cat, the least efficient way would be to yell at the dog after it returns from chasing the cat. The second least efficient way is to yank the dog back as soon as it starts to run after the cat. The most effective way is to correct the dog as soon as he’s thinking about chasing the cat. What!?? How do I know what my dog is thinking? Observe your dog. Watch how his attention is focused on the cat. Observe the body language of the dog – watch his interest grow – if you’ve let his attention peak you have waited too long. Don’t wait until the dog actually tries to take the dinner off the table, express your disapproval when the dog shows an interest and focus on it. By timing your response to the point at which the dog is forming the intent to act, but has not yet committed to it you will be able to make the strongest connection between your response and the act.
Know that the methods you choose for training your dog will have a huge impact on the love and trust your dog has for you and can strengthen your bond. By using humane and ethical methods, your dog will learn to feel safe, secure and protected around you and be more willing to work with you and learn.