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Basic obedience is about teaching your dog good manners, and keeping the dog safe and under control. Quite simply, not everyone is a fan of dogs. Imagine the scenario in a park and your dog runs up to a toddler and bowls them over. The child creams and irate parents push the dog away. He then thinks this is a great game and bounces and jumps even more. The situation rapidly spirals out of control and could end in threats to call the police...when all the dog wanted was to play.
Not everyone understands the difference between a playful dog and an aggressive one, so to avoid confusion it's essential your dog is obedient to your commands. The good news is that using reward-based training methods means the dog is eager to be obedient as he realizes good things happen when he does as requested.
Reward-based training represents a quantum leap forward in dog obedience. Older training methods that rely on dominating the dog have no place in today's world and are not only outdated, but flawed to their very core. With this in mind, let's find out more about how to train your dog to be obedient while having fun at the same time.
Obedience is about having the dog respond promptly to your commands. Key to training this skill for life is to motivate the dog so that he's eager to respond. This is the principle on which reward-based training methods rest.
There is, however, a fine line between rewarding a dog's good behavior and bribing him. The difference depends on expecting the dog to work harder over time, before he earns his reward. In practical terms, this means phasing out food rewards and making them less predictable, as the dog gets the hang of what he's expected to do.
Rewards take different forms for different dogs. If you have a food motivated dog then congratulations, because you can use tiny morsels of treats as a reward. For those dogs less enthusiastic about food, try rewarding him with a game with a favorite toy or simply with lavish praise. All dogs have something they are prepared to work for, so it's a matter of identifying what does it for your dog.
From puppy to adult or senior, no dog is too young or too old to benefit from reward-based training. However, always keep training sessions fun and not overly long so as to tire the dog. Several shorter sessions in a day are better than one long training episode. And as a rule, end each lesson with a command the dog knows and has mastered, so you can praise him and end on a high.
When getting started, train in a quiet place with few distractions so that the dog's focus is on you. If training outdoors, then a collar and leash are beneficial to stop the dog running off. You'll also need to work out what motivates your dog to work, be that a food treat, toy, or fuss.
The basics for getting going include:
- Collar and leash
- Training treats and a pouch to keep them in
When using food rewards, be sure to keep them teeny-tiny. The dog should get no more than a taste in the mouth, or else training will be constantly interrupted by the dog settling down to chomp his way down through a large biscuit.
Also, consider having a basic food reward (such as some of his kibble) plus a super tasty treat (a cube of cheese or sausage) for that extra special reward when he does something particularly well.
The Reward Based Training Method
Reward based training works by rewarding good behavior so that the dog wants to repeat the action in order to earn the treat.
Teach 'sit' on command
Hold a treat in front of the puppy's nose so he can sniff but not eat it.
Follow the treat
Keeping the treat near his nose to hold his interest, describe a shallow arc in the air, over the dog's head
Encourage his butt to drop
As the dog's head follows the treat, his butt should naturally drop to the ground.
Label the behavior
As soon as his butt hits the deck, label the behavior "sit".
Give the reward
Now give the treat to reward the sit.
Work on this several times in a row. Ultimately, you can start saying "Sit" a fraction earlier, so the dog starts to anticipate what he needs to do to earn the treat.
Lose the treat
Over time, stop rewarding every "Sit" and give a treat for every second or third response. This stops complacency and keeps the dog working to earn the reward.
The Handling Bad Behavior Method
Ignore bad behavior
Try not to shout or punish bad behavior. This only makes him fearful and may make him wary of you.
A short, sharp "No"
If the dog does something dangerous that needs instant reproof, then a short sharp "No" labels the action as unacceptable.
Don't go chasing
Be aware that chasing after a dog to retrieve that stolen slipper, only makes this into a game and he learns it's a great way to get attention
Use a distraction technique
Instead, distract the dog with another, more interesting behavior. Get his favorite squeaky toy and squeak it to get his attention. Make the toy far more appealing than the slipper, so that the drops the latter. Then reward the dog with a game of tug with his toy.
Most dogs are attention junkies, and don't mind being told off if it makes them the center of attention. If the dog is being naughty and has stopped listening to you, then make sure he is in a safe place and leave him alone. Withdrawing attention sends out a powerful message that the fun stops if he misbehaves.
Reward an alternate behavior
And last but not least, give a command you know the dog will obey such as "Sit". Then you can reward this good behavior, and distract him away from naughtiness.
Plenty of exercise
Bored dogs or those with too much energy are apt to behave badly. Short cut this by providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
The Clicker Training Method
Clicker training works by teaching the dog that ‘click-clack’ means he's earned a treat. You then label the desired action by clicking, which tells the dog exactly what he did that earned the reward. But first you must get the dog linking ‘click-clack’ to treats.
Throw a handful of treats on the floor
Click as he eats
As the dog eats the treats, click each time he picks one up.
Scatter individual treats
Now toss one treat at a time on the floor. As he eats the treat, click.
Click and wait
Now try clicking and see if the dog looks at the floor. If he does, then he has made the mental leap between click and a treat. Give him a reward.
Click to label
Now try teaching "Sit" as in the Reward Based Training method. Only this time, click as soon as his butt hits the floor. Then give the reward.
Phase out the treats
Clicker training allows you to tell the dog the exact moment he acts correctly. This allows you to lay down an IOU-one-treat on that action. Ultimately, this allows you to string actions together before giving a food reward.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/24/2017, edited: 01/08/2021