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Have you ever had dog envy?
Not an envy of a particular breed or particular individual, so much as the effortless way a dog responds to their owner. They are out there and you see them from time to time; the attentive dog that walks beside his master's heel without a leash, glancing up at him from time to time, checking in that his owner doesn't want him to do anything different. These dogs look so effortless to control, such a pleasure to be seen in public with... so unlike the unruly bundle of energy straining on the end of the leash that is your dog.
Actually, these well-behaved dogs don't happen by magic, but are the results of multiple hours of dedicated training. And the thing is, your dog can be just like that. All it takes is around 15 - 30 minutes every day and a little knowledge of reward-based training. That's less time than you spend walking a Doberman each day, so surely it has to be worth it? Give it a go!
Dobermans are large, powerful dogs with a tendency to be protective and guard. A poorly trained Doberman is potentially a dangerous dog, because of his physical size and power should he decide to take matters into his own paws.
It is every dog owner's responsibility, regardless of the size of their pet, to train them and create a good canine citizen. This is never truer than for the Doberman, which has somewhat of a checkered reputation, precisely because of irresponsible owners.
In the past, older training methods relied on dominating the dog and punishing bad behavior. While these dogs appeared to be immaculately trained, they obeyed out of fear. Modern training methods use rewards and praise to teach the dog to behave, and create a happy animal that wants to obey because he likes how you react and how it makes him feel.
Obedience training should never end, rather it should be an ongoing process throughout the dog's life. Not only does this ensure he's well-behaved but it provides precious one-to-one time and bonds him with the owner, as well as providing mental stimulation.
To obedience train a Doberman you need to start in a distraction-free environment, since the first lesson is for the dog to learn to listen to you. As training progresses it's then wise to vary where you train, so again he realizes that obedience isn't just a product of obeying in the living room, but obeying wherever he happens to be.
In addition, you'll need:
- A collar and leash
- Treats: These should be small, so that the dog gets a taste but doesn't spend a lot of time chewing
- A bag or pouch in which to keep the treats handy
- Toys: Some dogs work well for a game of tug or fetching the ball.
- A clicker
The Balanced Training Method
Understand how to motivate your Doberman
Reward-based training works by incentivizing the dog to think for himself. He learns that when he obeys a command there's a pleasant reward in store, such as a treat (in the early stages) or praise. The 'balance' is achieved by communicating with the dog in a way he understands when he behaves incorrectly. This may be a short, sharp "No!" or by ignoring the dog, depending on the circumstances. The combination of carrot and (gentle) stick helps the Doberman understand what he's expected to do.
Engage your dog's interest
Giving a reward is all very well, but you also need to engage the dog's interest so that he commits to taking part. Do this through talking to him in an excited voice and say "Yes" in an upbeat way, when he's doing well. We all love praise and encouragement and sensitive dogs like the Doberman are no different. For example, when teaching recall, don't just stand there like a tree. Instead, slap your thighs and make excited squeaky noises as you call the dog, to get him interested.
When to give the reward
The timing of when you give the reward is crucial. It's important you mark the exact moment the dog obeys (i.e., when his bottom hits the floor for 'sit') so that he understands what the reward is for. Leave it a few seconds later and he won't make the connection. Thus, in this case you'd say "Yes" excitedly as he sits (this marks the moment) and then quickly give the treat.
Use treats as a lure
The easiest way to engage the dog's cooperation is to lure him with a treat. For example, when teaching 'sit', hold a treat in front of the dog's nose but don't allow him to eat it. Then move the treat in an arc over and behind his head as you say "Sit." His rear will naturally sink to the ground as he follows the treat, which is when you say "Yes!" and give him the reward.
Consistency is key
Be consistent when training so that the dog doesn't become confused. If you sometimes expect him to sit curbside, but sometimes don't, then he won't understand what he's expected to do. Make sure you decide on a set of rules and stick to them. This includes involving all family members so they all use the same instructions in the same circumstances.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Phase the treats out over time
A dog that expects a reward every time he does good, will become lazy about obeying because he takes the treat for granted. Once you know the dog has mastered the command and fully understands what's expected, start to phase out the treats and give more praise and fuss. Start by not giving a treat on occasions even though the dog obeyed. He'll then wonder why he didn't get the treat (Did he not sit fast enough, did he not sit still enough?) and perform even better the next time.
Don't: Use Harsh training aids
The use of shock or prong collars, or choke chains is unacceptable. These work by inflicting discomfort or pain on the dog in order to get him to co-operate. Although superficially this seems to create a wonderfully obedient dog, in truth the dog is obeying out of fear. No owner wants their dog to be fearful of them, and with the effectiveness of reward-based methods it makes harsh correction totally unwarranted.
Do: Know that dobermans love attention
Dobermans love attention and thrive on being the center of attention. They also need plenty of mental stimulation so that they don't grow bored and misbehave out of mischief. This makes obedience training a great way to bond with the dog and provide an outlet for his mental energy, which in turns leads to a better behaved dog. However, be sure to make those training sessions fun so that he looks on them as a game and is eager to participate. A happy dog is one that learns quickly.
Do: Train regularly
Little and often, say two or three, ten minute sessions a day, are better than one long session. Keep the mood light and make things fun. Remember, training helps you to bond so you want to set the right tone.
Do: End on a positive note
If the dog loses concentration and starts to make mistakes, draw that session to an end. However, leave him on a positive note with a command that you know he can do. This helps build his self-confidence and will have him looking forward to the next session.
The Clicker Training Method
Understand clicker training
This clever training method uses the click of a clicker to exactly mark the moment the dog obeys. Because the dog has already learned that the click means he gets a reward, this is a highly effective way of marking the action you desire, leaving the dog in no doubt about what the command means.
Teach the link between click and reward
This is easy to do and most dogs learn it in one session. Simply throw a tasty treat on the floor. When the dog eats it, click him. Throw another treat on the floor and again click when he picks it up. Keep repeating this. Then try clicking before you throw the treat. If the dog looks at the floor expectantly, you'll know he's made the mental leap and is expecting a treat to follow.
Timing the click
The trick is to click and mark the exact action your require. For 'sit', this would be the moment the dog's bottom sits on the ground. The click then tells him that when you say "sit" and he does so, he gets a reward. Because you have marked the moment with a click which tells him a reward is due, he'll better understand what he's getting the treat for.
Clicking offered behaviors
Clicker training enables you to put habits and action on cue, such as sneezing or yawning. Let's say you want to teach the trick of yawning on cue. You would keep the clicker handy and when the dog happens to yawn, click mid yawn. This tells him this action is worth rewarding. Repeat this each time you see him yawning and add the cue word "Yawn" as he starts to open his mouth. Pretty soon he'll learn yawning on command earns a treat. You can apply this to a whole variety of behaviors such as raising a paw, turning in a circle, or even scratching.
Phase out the rewards
It is a sad fact that things that happen regularly are soon taken for granted. Once your dog has mastered a command, by all means click but don't reward him each time. This keeps him on his toes and stops him assuming even a sloppy 'sit' will get a treat. By making the arrival of a treat less predictable this keeps him sharp and desperate to impress.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 03/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021