Dog Training Tips

General Tips

ANYTHING YOUR DOG “WANTS” CAN BE USED AS A REWARD. Meals, scratches, a game of fetch, going outside: By creating a mental library of your dog’s favorite things you’re building the resources you have to control his or her behavior.

BE CLEAR. Although you might eventually to use either a visual cue (like a hand motion) or a verbal one (like a word), training will be clearer and faster if you begin using just one of these. Other cues can later be added to elicit the same
behaviors.

BE CONSISTENT. If multiple people in the household are training the dog at the same time, it’s preferable if each works on teaching a different new behavior until it is happening with fluency and on cue with that person. Only at that point should others begin cueing that behavior as well.

ALWAYS SET UP YOUR DOG UP FOR SUCCESS, NOT FAILURE. To a dog, everything is pass/fail–there are no B-pluses in dog world. Just like a student who fails more than he passes is likely to get discouraged, a dog who fails more than he passes is more likely to stop trying. Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing by modifying your dog’s environment to make it hard to do the wrong thing. During any single training session, correct responses should far outnumber incorrect responses.

GET IN THE HABIT OF REWARDING ALL GOOD BEHAVIOR. A marker and a reward – be it a food reward or something else reinforcing – should be given sporadically at moments when your dog is doing what you like: Staying quiet when there is someone in the hall, lying quietly, chewing something appropriate, or not pulling on the leash.

IGNORE OR REDIRECT INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR, such as pawing, leaning, nudging, barking, whining, and jumping up. Look away, hold still, walk away, or leave the room if necessary. Any attention, even yelling could be considered a good thing to the dog, and therefore would only encourage the behavior. Subtract all attention until the moment the “bad” behavior ceases.

AVOID PUNISHMENTS SUCH AS YELLING, COLLAR YANKING, OR SPRAY BOTTLES SQUIRTS. These may exacerbate behavior problems, since the dog might be making associations you don’t intend. You might be spraying because he is barking, but he may think that it’s because someone new has entered the room. For him, the association then becomes: “When someone new enters the room, I get sprayed, so I better attack the person before that happens!” It’d be impossible to say what kind of weird associations like that they are making; the fallout for a dog misunderstanding why he was rewarded is much less than the possible consequences of mistimed or misused punishment.

Basic recipe to training a new behavior

STEP ONE
Get the dog to perform the behavior you would like. This can be done by luring it, shaping it, or capture it by waiting for him or her to do it on his own. To teach a dog to go to his bed, you’d either bring him over to the bed by making him follow a treat (capturing), reward any movement towards the bed (shaping), or wait for him to go to the bed on his own.

STEP TWO
Pinpoint the moment that the behavior occurs using a marker (a word, clicker, or other consistently delivered noise or stimulus).

STEP THREE
Follow the marker with a reward.

STEP FOUR
Reward the behavior whenever it happens, spontaneously or otherwise. You want the dog to be doing it so often that appears he has understood that he has trained you: “Hey! I’ve gotten the humans to give me a reward simply by going to my mat!”)

STEP FIVE

Pick a verbal or gestural cue and give it every time the dog goes to the mat. Back up the delivery until the cue is given prior to him heading to the mat. Lastly, deliver the cue only every second or third time he goes to the mat. He now only gets rewarded when he goes to the mat when you’ve asked; if you haven’t asked, nothing happens.