Written by: Melinda Benbow, Urban Uplander
As dog lovers, we are always looking for ways to keep our training and relationships growing with our furry friends. Whether you are getting a pup soon, are already training a dog, or you feel like training is years behind you and your older dog, here are a few simple reminders and tips to keep you progressing in a positive direction.
1. Reinforcement Drives Behavior
The more you reinforce particular behaviors, the more likely those behaviors will reoccur. So reward the behaviors you enjoy, and ignore the behaviors that you dislike. Your dog will naturally want to repeat the behaviors that provided them with rewards and will start to engage less in the behaviors that do not produce any response. A reward is anything that can be reinforcing to a dog. For example, if you pet your dog while they are jumping on you, you are encouraging the jumping behavior. In this situation, only pet them while all paws are on the floor, and when they jump up, turn away from them or leave the room. In this case, the dog will view your failure to interact as a punishment. It is important to let the dog know what you want from them and when they are doing it correctly.
2. Always Bring Rewards
Even the most well-trained and socialized dogs can find themselves in new situations that may be uncomfortable, so you should always have food rewards ready to help them through these moments. You might miss important training moments if you find yourself without something to reward good behavior. This is just as important when you are at home because you want to reward good behavior whenever and wherever it is happening. If the reward is not immediate, the dog may not understand exactly what behavior induced a reward.
3. Provide Consistency
A critical element of any kind of dog training is consistency—in the training schedules you set to teach new behaviors, as well as in when and how you ask for these behaviors. A dog must experience multiple repetitions of training in order to understand what the specific behavior is and the cue tied to it. The more consistently you use the same cue, practice regularly, and include everyone who closely interacts with the dog, the faster they will comprehend the training.
Consistency remains important even after your basic training has been completed. In order for a dog to continue to understand how to be a good canine citizen in a human world, you must not become complacent about the standards you’ve set. Think of your dog’s ability to communicate with humans as a muscle. The more often you work, the stronger your dog’s ability to communicate becomes. When you stop putting in the work, it becomes more challenging to communicate with your dog as that muscle weakens.
4. Set your dog up for success
Another great way to encourage positive behavior is to put your dog in situations that allow them to succeed. A great way to do this is to manage your dog’s environment. Before letting my dog out of her crate to hang out in the living room while I watch TV, I take a walk through the living room and pick up anything that could be a danger to her or items I know I do not want her to chew. By doing this, I am eliminating the chance of her getting hold of something that may frustrate me or harm her. We also do this before training sessions. We take a moment to make sure nothing is distracting for the dog, so they can focus on the training task at hand.
Being able to manage the environment in which you work with your dogs also allows you to control the progression of the skill you are teaching. As your dog starts to understand skills in low-distraction environments, you can add minor distractions into training to help strengthen those behaviors. However don’t push the dog too hard or too fast. After all, you do not want your dog to fail, and your goal is not to trick them.
5. Ask for Help
Dog behavior and learning theory are not easy “DIY” projects, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Essentially we are trying to build a line of communication with another species of animal. Trained professionals have put a lot of time and energy into learning their craft, and nobody expects the average dog owner to be able to create a well-balanced dog entirely on their own. Dogs are magnificent creatures that provide us with constant comfort and companionship throughout our whole life. Imagine how elevated that bond could be if you work with a professional to understand the finer nuances of animal behavior. You also do not have to wait for a behavior problem to occur to ask for help. Set yourself and your pooch up for success by consulting with a certified professional in your area.
Melinda Benbow owns and operates Urban Uplander Pet Care in Indianapolis, Indiana, along with her husband and partner, Kyle. She has worked with animals professionally for more than a decade, focused on positive-reinforcement training, animal behavior, pet safety, and pet health. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.