Training your dog is a bit like learning a musical instrument. Your timing needs to be good and how and where you place your hands is important. Get those things right and you’ll be amazed how easily Fido picks up the ‘tune’. These aren’t the only requirements for effective dog training but they’re a good start point. So, here’s a quick guide to help you finesse your doggie training sessions.
Are you prepared?
It’s an obvious point but before you holler for your dog, make sure you have prepared yourself. Have you decided what you’re going to work on training? Have you cleared the room/garden so you have enough space? What about that scarf/cardigan you’re wearing – will it dangle in your dog’s face?! Do you need any equipment? What are you going to use as a reward – toys, treats? (if so – have you cut them up ready?) Have you got your clicker ready or decided on your click-word? Have you considered what ‘success’ looks like? For example, if you’re teaching ‘paw’, are you expecting Fido to place his paw perfectly in your hand the first time (unlikely)? Or are you going to ‘shape’ the behaviour? Get yourself a plan … then start your training session.
The better your timing the faster Fido will learn. Whether you’re using a clicker or a click-word, mark when the dog is doing the behaviour eg in the case of training ‘sit’, click as soon as your dog’s butt hits the floor. If our timing is poor and we click too late, the dog may have offered 2 or 3 other behaviours so we end up rewarding the ‘wrong’ thing. Similarly, with lead walking, poor-timing often means we reward the very thing we’re trying to eradicate eg we reward the dog pulling (or jumping up). With the piano analogy, imagine you’re unsure which note to play, you try a few and suddenly the teacher says ‘yes’ … but actually she was referring to the note you played a few seconds ago. Confusing?!
Placement– ‘how’ you deliver the treat
Remember that song, “It aint what you do it’s the way that you do it?” It applies to dog training too! If you can keep your hand movements calm and clear, your dog will find it easier to understand what you want. I often see Owners trying really hard but because their hands are whizzing all around, the dog isn’t sure what position to be in, so gets it ‘wrong’; then frustration builds both ends of the lead. And with recall training, Fido races to you (hurrah!) but you’re not quite ready; you fumble to get the treat and end up slamming it in Fido’s face! Not quite the ‘reward’ either of you were hoping for. Frenetic delivery by you = frenzied behaviour from your dog.
Placement – ‘Where’ you place the treat
If I want the dog to train the dog to be able to look away from a distraction then ‘where’ I put the treat (as well as the timing) is important. I need to click when the dog looks away from the distraction and then place the treat AWAY from the distraction too.
Perfection Takes Practise
Dog training can be hard for humans (and we know what we’re trying to accomplish!) Spare a thought for your dog; he doesn’t know what you’re thinking and is simply doing his best to follow our (sometimes unclear) instructions. But take heart, as John Wooden said “It takes time to create excellence; if it could be done quickly, more people – (and their dogs!) – would achieve it.”