Some ABC’s of training

As a teacher, we are always taught by our students. So, from experience with teaching a variety of dogs sports, dog classes and private trainings, I have realized there are some basic “ABC’s” to keep in mind.

This goes two ways: Getting your dogs attention and giving your dog attention.
The first step of any training program should teach people how to get and keep their dog’s attention in the face of distractions. All training starts here. Put simply, if you can’t get your dog’s attention to begin with, they are not going to listen or observe anything else you are asking them to do or not to do. Getting their attention is best trained by developing a conditioned response, so that the instant they hear their name, they look to you…no matter what. If you cannot get your dog’s attention inside with no distractions, trying to get their attention outside with a ton of distractions will only train them to ignore you. To condition your dog to always give you attention, we start very simple with zero distractions. Our “Squirrel?” class is all about this

On the other end of the leash, people need to pay attention to their dogs. To be honest, I usually observe that dogs pay much more attention to their humans than their humans realize…or give them credit for! Our dogs know our every movement, motion, tone of voice, facial expression, (our) behavior patterns etc. They know us better than we often know ourselves! Yet, most people rarely reciprocate.

I find so many behavior problems arise because people simply get too busy, too preoccupied, too whatever, to pay attention to their dogs every day and as a living part of their family and social structure.

Barking is one of the biggest bad habits that results from a dog being left in the yard or kennel all day unATTENDED. Dogs get bored, or anxious or both, and start barking. Barking becomes a habit for them as addictive as smoking is for humans….and just as hard to break. So prevent the habit from forming to begin with. Train your dog so that they can be left inside reliably and safely while you are gone, don’t leave your dog for tooooo long without you or someone coming in to see them, and don’t leave them in the yard unattended for long periods of time. When they start barking, check for what they are barking about, and then call their name and give them something else to do. If this something else has something to do with a toy, or stick or ball or something else in their mouth, even better, because its hard to bark with your mouth full!

Giving a dog your ATTENTION will also prevent destructive behavior and help nip counter surfing in the bud. New puppies, like toddlers required LOTS of attention. Catching inappropriate chewing in the act and “trading out” the inappropriate object for a toy or bone or something they can chew on is one of the easiest and most effective ways to teach a dog what they can chew on and what they cannot. If you are in a position where you cannot give a new dog or puppy your attention (you need to leave for a bit, you need to get some work done, you need to sleep, you are driving) then having your dog crate trained will be allow you to safely leave them unattended so you can do these things. They will not be getting into things they shouldn’t, eating things they shouldn’t, etc. They are happily in their crates (IF you have done your crate training correctly!) chewing away on their favorite bone or toy or sleeping.

Giving your dog attention is also one of the greatest rewards you can give them. Removing this reward from them can also clearly tell them if their behavior is inappropriate….such as jumping or barking at you. So remember that positive attention is on of the greatest rewards and reinforcements for your dog. Lavish them with attention when they are doing the right thing….and even when they are refraining from doing the wrong thing!

Being a good parent to children involves setting reasonable boundaries and teaching a child to respect them. Teaching a dog or puppy is just like being a good parent.
Decide what your dog will be allowed to do and what not to do first. This is a purely personal decision as everyone is different…some people don’t mind dogs on the furniture, and other people do. The key is decided what YOU want in your life….those will define the boundaries for your dog.

While boundaries are a personal decision, I have found some universal ones to be helpful:
1. greeting manners (no jumping….even when they are a cute puppy!) Use the proverbial “four on the floor”
2. grabbing leashes during walks ( this will be confusing for them if you want to do things like skijoring, canix, rally, obedience or other sports that require them to leave the line alone)
3. feet off of the counter (obvious reasons)
4. nipping during “rough play”
5. grabbing your hand in their mouth while getting a toy or playing (big no!)
6. grabbing a glove….remember, a dog cannot distinguish between a glove with a hand in it and a glove with out. Gloves do not make good toys!
7. Chasing cars/bikes, skateboards, children, livestock…moving things ….VERY hard habit to ever break…and very dangerous. Even working herding dogs are not allowed to freely chase livestock! Their movements are under voice control of their handler and are purposeful and calm.
8. A word about the furniture: my dogs are allowed on furniture and beds (my choice), but they also know the word “Off” which has been taught to them USING POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT so that is it not a punishment, but simply a word to tell them where to go besides the furniture.
So think about the boundaries you want to establish for your dog’s life, teach your dog alternative behaviors to what you don’t want them to do or a place to go rather than where you don’t want them to be….and move on to the next step…

What more can I say? Well, probably a lot. This is such an obvious thing and simple concept….but amazingly difficult for humans to follow. It takes some discipline….on the human’s part…not the dogs’!

For instance, if you don’t want your dog to jump on you or anyone else, dont’ let them. Certainly don’t let them do this as a puppy, even if it is cute then. That puppy is going to grow up fast! Set a boundary of “all four on the floor” in order to get attention, and stick with it.

If you want your dog to wait for your command to get out of the car or go through an open door, this must happen every time (even as your dog gets older and knows this, you still need to do it).

You get the picture. Consistency will make life with you so much easier for your dog. It will reinforce boundaries, remove anxiety from your dog as they will know what to do and what to expect, and remove stressful and unpleasant sessions from the life you and your dog lead together.

Happy tails! and thanks to all of the dogs and their humans who have helped me learn my ABCs!

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