When we think of training, most of us think of set training sessions or group classes, which
are structured with a designated start and end time. But really, training is just learning, and
learning is happening all the time.
What gets rewarded gets repeated
Things that are rewarded get repeated. Rewards can be food, access to the environment or other dogs, play, attention, or anything that is nice for dogs. Dogs just do what works for them, so if we make sure the behaviours we like get consistently rewarded, the dog will choose to do these things more often. If, for instance, we leave bread on the kitchen counter and the dog steals it while we get the mail, the behaviour was rewarded, so it’s going to happen again!
Set your dog up for success
It’s incredibly important that we set our dogs up so they are able to be successful with training. Recalls are a great example of this. The basic skill (come on cue) is very simple, and most puppies pick it up very young. But it often falls apart in real life because we ask for too much too fast. If a puppy recall on leash at home is Preschool level, coming away from sniffing a good smell from 30 feet away is Grade 9, and coming away from play with another dog or chasing prey is Post Doc!
If we skip steps, or miss the signs that our dogs are distracted, tired, or stressed, we run the risk of becoming frustrated, or frustrating our dogs. Frustration fuels a lot of problem behaviours, in both humans and dogs! Worse still, we might teach our dog that ignoring us is rewarding! Setting our dogs up so they can be successful each step of the way is an incredibly important step in creating really strong behaviours that we can rely on.
Listen to your dog
Dogs are always communicating. Being mindful and watching our dogs is an important skill for any guardian to learn.
Knowing what is normal for your dog is the first step. When we have learned to watch our dogs carefully, we will pick up on subtle communications and are able to adjust what we ask of our dogs before an issue arises.
Dogs who are afraid, overstimulated, or bored are not able to learn very well. We can prevent a lot of fear and frustration just by staying in tune with what our dogs are expressing, and then believing them!
Gear won’t train your dog, but it can give you a leg up
Equipment alone is not a solution for problem behaviour, but the right equipment can help. For example, one way to train a solid recall is to utilize a long line like the RC Pets Training Leash.
By allowing our dogs more room to move freely -but also not letting them completely loosewe can prevent behaviours we don’t like (like not coming when called) from being rewarded. Like training wheels! Staying organized on walks can also make a big difference.
A hands-free leash can be a huge help and having a treat pouch (the Quick Grab Treat Bag is my favourite) can make it easier to reward on time!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you feel stuck or like you need an outside eye, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Even we dog trainers do it with each other!
Everyone needs support. It can be hard to step back and get perspective on a problem when we live with it.
We want you and your dog to thrive, and if you are feeling tension or stress with your dog, find a science-based trainer in your area. They can help you to build and maintain a connected and joyful relationship between you and your dog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liza is a dog trainer and toller enthusiast based in South Surrey, BC. She utilizes science-based methods to help frustrated dog owners understand, connect with and care for their high-energy, high-octane dogs and puppies. Liza believes that training should be practical, fun and that a well-trained dog is a mentally healthy dog. Her experience in disability advocacy influences how she approaches dog training, focusing on teaching life skills from a basis of mutual respect and understanding.