1) Always keep Safety in mind…for both you and your dog. This means physical as well as mental…set your dog up for success, not failure. If you’re frustrated, DON’T TRAIN! You and your dog will get nothing out of the session!
2) Be a Splitter, Not a Lumper…Set a training goal for each session and stop when you reach it! Do not require a 10 minute down-stay right off the bat…ask for a 30 second one instead first. Move up to a few minutes, then back down to a few easy seconds, then add more time and more distractions, but then make it very easy again. Vary things and keep them fun. If you keep your dog guessing, then you will very soon create lifelong habits of listening.
3) To get ANY behavior, you have to have your pet’s attention first! If your dog is not paying attention to you, you cannot expect to teach them anything! Most owners underestimate the power of teaching their pets attention…and thus forget to teach their pet to maintain eye contact and even forget to reward for appropriate decisions to make eye contact, like a check-in on walks. Teach your pet to pay attention in ALL environments, positions, etc. Practice this constantly…and go “back to basics” in any new situations.
4) Capturing. Never underestimate the value of this method. Eventually, every dog will sit down / lay down / etc…if you’re stuck on something, take a break and just be patient, then capture the “Kodak” moment when your dog finally gives up and sits, downs, etc.
5) Keep your training sessions in balance. Start with food when teaching the basics, but move to life rewards like: playing ball, tug, going for a car ride or walk, being let out of the crate, etc. Find out what motivates your pet and start allowing your dog to EARN it, instead of getting it for free…even if just asking for eye contact at first! Every throw of the ball starts and ends with basic eye contact. Sometimes from in front, sometimes from the left, sometimes from the right, sometimes when I am sitting, sometimes when I am flat on the ground, etc.
6) Resistance to an exercise means that there is not complete understanding. I have yet to meet the dog that deliberately goes out of its way to upset its owners…they are actually usually trying to get you to LAUGH and HAVE FUN with them. Dogs are opportunists - they do what works! Usually, there is a behavioral issue present that is mis-construed as “done on purpose to irritate” from the owner. Of course everything a dog does is on purpose! Everything you do is on purpose too! Whether they are going potty, sitting for food, or playing with a ball. There is ALWAYS a motivator. However, WE have to be the ones to change the behaviors we don’t like into the behaviors we want…so we must change the motivations.
7) Separate your goals from your starting points…You cannot expect a behavior that has not been taught completely. Most owners believe their dog knows sit, just because they sit on cue in the house. Unfortunately, this is quite commonly not the case. The end goal is to have the dog sit everywhere on cue, right? So TEACH the dog that sitting everywhere (house, driveway, pet store, vet clinic, park, on a walk, etc, etc, etc) is a good thing and gets paid. Then, as your dog gets better and better at sitting on cue for pay, then you can start variable reinforcement with the pay and asking for more sits with less rewards.
8) Always Reward your Positives & Ignore the Negatives…Only punish if the behavior is completely unacceptable and you never want it to occur again. A punishment by nature is an action that makes a behavior go away completely. By ignoring a behavior, we don’t reward the behavior AT THAT TIME, but may choose to do so at a later one. A common mistake is punishing a barking dog by yelling or sometimes worse…though I most certainly hope not. In my training programs I rarely punish a barking dog. I simply ignore them if I do not want the barking, i.e. barking in the house to get my attention, then pay for when they choose silence. Or, if I want that barking, i.e. barking at a noise or a strange person, I will tell my dog “Good dog…Thank you. Sit (or Down)”. I do not PAY with a reward but use verbal praise to help the dog understand that they were correct in barking, but now they do not need to, and I gave them another cue to keep busy with. This is called redirection. We are redirecting the behavior we don't want into one we can live with...and if I am not home, my do can bark away!
9) There is no one correct way to train! For every cue, there are many options on how to teach it. Do NOT be fooled by any one trainer that states “This is the way it’s done.” And then cannot help you when a problem arises. Every dog and owner will be different and a good trainer will be flexible and creative.
10) “Go to people for opinions…Go to your pet for answers.” I can tell you how we generally train a cue, but only your pet will say if it’s working. There are many options to each cue, so hang in there…we’ll keep showing you until one works!
11) There are really no limits when training. You can teach your dog to do most anything that you can think up. To date, Guinness reliably knows more than 150 cues…
12) If you find yourself getting frustrated at any point in time, always go “back to basics.” This is a cue or simply a quiet behavior like eye contact where you can end your training session on a yes answer. Try not to end on a sour note, or the next session will only be more difficult. Especially in beginning training, always ending on a yes keeps your pet motivated to do more next time.
13) Also, end your sessions with your pet wanting more. When your pet is most into training, playing, etc, end the session happily and let your pet relax and think about what happened. This is most critical in the beginning phases of training. Sometimes I even recommend crating your pet for a few minutes during the training session if they seem particularly distracted, so they can do just that. No toys, treats, etc, just a simple “Kennel up. Good dog.” Leave the room for a few moments, and then let them back out to try again.
14) Capture vs. Lure vs. Shape. Always start teaching your pet with non-verbal communication. I use food, then move to toys, play, car rides, and other life rewards. Capturing, as defined before, is like taking a picture: Mark (Click or Yes!) when the dog is giving you the “Kodak” moment and reward for the natural behavior. Luring is taking a motivator, like a treat, and luring your pet into a position, like a sit or down. The benefit of lures is that they teach fast, the downside is that you MUST get the lure out of the picture as fast as possible in order to successfully teach your pet a cue, otherwise they require a bribe the rest of their life. Shaping is taking an end behavior and breaking it into steps, like teaching spin or circle. We mark and pay for each movement in the right direction, leading up to the end goal: a full circle. A head turn, a head turn with a shoulder, a half-circle, a full circle, etc.
As with any training program, you must be able to evolve and modify it again and again along the way. These are the basic steps we recommend to help you be successful during each session.
Be creative. Keep reinforcing. Don’t always Punish.
Earn Applause…with Awesome Paws.
CVT & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy