It is interesting to me how most people go about trying to train a dog. With the amount of information that is readily available, it is easier than it once was. Maybe that is the reason we make it so difficult. When information was not easily accessible, one would typically rely upon knowledgeable friends, or should I say friends that thought they knew more than the new trainer, or the dog was sent out for “professional” training.
The problem with this course of action is that if you do not know how to train a dog then how do you recognize someone that does know how to train a dog? It is difficult to get the real information regarding a dog that you see. For example, many of the “trained” dogs we see at field trials are trained by someone other than the owner that is running him in the trial. Are we to assume that this owner knows how to train a dog because the dog listened to the command? Additionally, what is your standard? Is a trained dog one that simply comes when it is called? Most of our Clients need to be educated regarding making their personal standard higher for the trained dog. These are remarkable creatures that are capable of doing very demanding tasks. Expect your dog to be better trained than you currently think it can be.
The most important point I would like to make is that training your own dog is not that difficult. Here are a few things that you will need to be willing to do and be committed towards to assure you complete the training. First, I believe there is a greater amount of disinformation out there than information that is beneficial to you. Try to open your mind to learning the same way we want to open your dogs mind to learning. Try to clear your mind of most of what you have read. You will need a plan that takes the training in a logical manner and you will need to understand what a dog is and how it learns.
In a perfect world, you will educate yourself on what a dog is and how he learns PRIOR to you getting a dog. This is what we call canine characteristics and I believe it is the single most important thing required to effectively train a dog. If you already have a dog, we can still help; however, we will now be reprogramming the dog as compared to starting the dog off correctly.
If I asked you what a dog is, most people would give adjectives such as loyal, happy, and loving and so forth. If someone asked me what a dog is, I would say they are a pack animal, creatures of habit, place-oriented and learn through association.
Any of the typical television shows on wolves will show you that canines are pack animals. But what does that mean regarding our training of the dog? It is not as simple as there is an Alpha dog in the pack. You and your family have now become the dogs pack and until you establish where the dog is in the pack, he will ALWAYS be trying to be the leader of the pack. Some of these attempts are obvious but most are going to be subtle to you. For an example, when your dog comes and sits by you and is leaning against you, he is trying to be the leader of the pack. When your dog goes through a door prior to you, he is trying to be the leader of the pack. You need to decide which items are important to you and which ones you will allow to occur. The important thing is that you realize that you are dealing with pack issues and if the dog sometimes thinks that he is the leader and other times you do not him it be the leader it will create difficulties and apprehension for the dog (and you) at higher levels of training. It will make the dog unreliable regarding its training.
We tend to be anthropomorphic with our dogs. By definition, this means that we tend to portray our human emotions onto our dogs. Horse trainers have been dealing with this for decades, while it still remains foreign to most dog owners. This is likely because our dogs tend to live in the house and inherently become part of the family. By being anthropomorphic, we lose sight of pack order with canines.
Examples that we have come across include the dog that runs into a burning building to save someone or the dog that knows when I get home because it is there to greet me. Do not miss understand me, as I have no interest in debating it or dealing with a remarkable miracle that someone “knows” to be true. It is simply that canines are provided with certain genes that have allowed them to survive and avoiding fire is one of them. A variation of this is the dog that wakes the family up to save them from the fire. In reality, the dog has learned through association that you open the door for him. He senses danger and barks or wakes you so you will open the door and he can get out. Regarding knowing when you get home, it has learned through association that every time the doorknob turns, or the sound of the garage door opening occurs, SOMEONE is coming in and the dog runs to see whoever it is. The fact that it is you at the door makes the dog that much more excited because you are its safe zone.
These examples can go on and on. If you can open your mind to the concept and remove the human emotion, it will greatly improve your training. The reason these “harsh” topics are not written about very often is because they do not sell books. People typically want to hear that their dog loves them and does things to please humans. The truth is that your dog does not love you and does not do things to please you. The dog wants to do what it wants and when it does things for us it is because it works for the dog (the puppy does not sit because we want him to, he sits because he thinks he will get a treat).
Bonding does not occur in the manner that we think it does. Bonding occurs when the dog has learned its place in the pack and is comfortable with it. When your dog has learned that you are the Alpha dog in his pack, then he will act like he is your buddy. This is because being the Alpha dog is more than just being in control of your dog. It also means you are providing protection, leadership and food for your dog. Now the dog is comfortable and will remain comfortable in his roll. Understand that if you let your dog do whatever it wants, he will also give the illusion of being your buddy but he still will not do what you want. He looks like he is your buddy and happy with you because he is doing what he wants. Whether human or canine, what is not great about doing whatever we want? This leads to the second most important canine characteristic; your dog is a creature of habit.
The reason that you need to really understand pack order and make it part of your daily life with your dog is because canines are creatures of habit. What your dog does today, he will do tomorrow. Our training is accomplished by maximizing this canine characteristic. Think about house breaking your puppy. By taking it out of the crate every morning and immediately taking the puppy out to air out, you are making that a habit. Since the dog is a creature of habit genetically, you are using that to make it a habit to come out of his crate and air out outside instead of in the house. After enough consistent repetitions, it becomes a habit. All of our training is done utilizing the inherent nature of a canine being a creature of habit. EVERY time we put the dog in a crate, the truck or its kennel, we say kennel. EVERY time we open the kennel door the dog must wait until told to come out. With enough CONSISTENT repetitions, we create the habit.
Keep in mind that this can also work against you. Consistent repetitions of undesirable things will make those things habits as well. For example, if you say “here” repeatedly and your dog does not respond then you are teaching him not to come. Once the dog knows what “here” means, get in the habit of saying “here” only once and if the dog does not respond, go get the dog.
We have discussed the two most important canine characteristics that you need to understand so that you can train your own dog. However, remember that “pack” is not just the characteristic of being in charge. The often neglected second part is the security you provide the dog. WE WANT OUR DOGS TO BE IN CONTROL NOT CONTROLLED!
T - Teach The Task
R - Reward The Behavior
I - Increase The Expectation
P - Polish The Behavior Through Repetition