Basic Dog Training

Basic dog training – the doggie treat manoeuvre.

You look at Fido and see two things.
– The little creature you love and opened your home and heart to.
– Then there’s the dopey demon running rings around you. He has already swallowed the wife’s Manolo’s and you swear he has his eye on your palm pilot! No doubt about it, something has to be done!

The thing is, people are not born well behaved and polite, it’s behaviour that we were TAUGHT. In the absence of such training, people learn their social skills on their own – sometimes with less than desirable and even disastrous results.

It is exactly like this with dogs, but made worse by the fact they naturally have a completely different social structure. If we sniffed someone’s backside to find out about them, we would get smacked or maybe arrested for harassment. Equally, a dog can’t just ask his neighbour Butch if he likes chasing cars or collecting bones. Dogs and humans learn to live side by side with a little training. We learn to understand each other as best we can. We teach them what is acceptable and reap the rewards that come with a well behaved and happy pooch.

Sit boy sit!
It all starts with the bare basics. You have to walk before you can run! In the beginning, the word ‘sit’ is the magical word that solves many a canine problem. Many dog trainers agree that treat training is one of the best methods of training there is.

So how do you get that furry butt to hit the floor on command? Well, here is the story of Mack. “Mack was very excitable for such a small dog, he used to nose dive on visitors and do the ‘doggie trampoline’ every time you did anything. It became a real problem when he darted after other dogs, jumped all over complete strangers and ruined peoples flower beds. If he had been a Labrador people, would have been terrified. So I took him aside and waggled a treat at him. I held it above his head until his bottom hit the floor and I immediately said “Sit…GOOD BOY!” and gave him the treat. When he started to associate the command with the action, I slowly replaced treats with praise, giving him the odd treat to reinforce the good behaviour. He sits when told now (he never knows when a treat will be forthcoming either!) and guests are not terrified of sitting on the couch for fear of being dog-mugged.”

Lie down boy!
Right, we have ‘sit’ in the bag, what about ‘lie down?’ “Homer is your average big dog, a boisterous nutter with unknown parentage. The main problem with him was his size. We travel a lot and he bounced around the car excitedly, anything he saw out the window could potentially send him into frenzy. He just loved the car – dividers, straps and restraints never really worked for him, he needed to calm down. He would sit on command but he was still very excitable from a sitting position. Then we realised ‘bingo!’ the only time he is really calm is when he is lying down! We used the treat training method, getting him to sit then pulling the treat from him across the floor, forcing him to lie down, giving him the command and praise. Over time he got used to doing this in the car without treats. I can drive without fear of him causing a crash now. It’s like freedom for us and he seems happy as I am calmer too.”

Once he is down, it’s getting him to stay that is the prize. “Zac was a terrible abuser of his training! He figured out that I gave him a treat as soon as he followed my command, so he felt he need not bother ‘staying.’ He would take his treat and his praise and then wander off to do whatever it is he did. So I had to trick the trickster. I started giving him treats to ‘stay’ and I would give the command. If he complied, I would give him a treat and praise straight away. If he started to get up I would repeat this, we would keep this up for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the times. Then I started to give praise without the treats. He seems to live in hope of these odd ‘reinforcement’ treats.”

Many a dog can be coaxed with a treat; the key is to get them to link the command with the action. The treat is just a prize. Gradually you replace the treat with praise, giving the odd treat to reinforce this good behaviour.

Top tips:
– Training means consistency; don’t give in to puppy dog eyes or a persistent dog. They learn that patience and persistence pays off.
– Remember, nearly all ‘behaviour problems’ are perfectly normal canine behaviour. You need to redirect their natural behaviour to a suitable outlet.
– A dog ages approx. seven years for every one human year so their behaviour is ever changing, this is why dog training is life long.
– Start training in an area with few visual and sound distractions, gradually introducing distractions to help pooch adjust.
– Dogs bore easily so keeping training to 15-20 minutes a day and/or incorporating it into your daily routine will help you both stay sane! ‘Sit’ while you cook, ‘heel’ while you talk on the phone.
– We often let good behaviour go unrewarded and go bananas when pooch misbehaves. Dogs love attention even if it is negative. Praising good behaviour, even if he sits quietly chewing on his own toy, will help pooch understand that good behaviour is more rewarding.
– Following on from the last point, most dogs are so used to ‘No’, ‘Stop that’ and ‘Bad dog’ that it becomes background noise; reprimands ceasing to have meaning. Try to find a balance between reprimands and praise.
– Expecting your dog to be restrained and well behaved when away from the home will not work if he is allowed to run free of rules when he is at home.
– Although old dogs can indeed learn new tricks, the earlier a dog learns the better. An older dog has to unlearn habits; a pup has more or less got a nice clean slate.
– Trainers generally agree, there is no point in reprimanding a dog unless you catch him in the act. Otherwise he will not be able to associate the punishment with his bad behaviour.

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