The Importance of Dog Training
Text and Photos: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
Maintaining the health and well-being of your dog through diet, exercise, grooming, and general care is the minimum requirement of owning a dog. In addition to your dog’s physical needs, you are also responsible for shaping their behaviour, ensuring they do not negatively impact your family or the wider community.
Problems related to dog behaviour are often linked directly to training or, more often than not, lack thereof. It is the responsibility of all dog owners to do some basic training, shaping a dog’s behaviour to ensure control of the dog in public places and around other people. It also makes a dog much easier to live with when it understands acceptable behaviour and respects the boundaries.
Shaping Your Dogs Behaviour
Shaping a dog’s behaviour is much easier with a basic understanding of positive reinforcement training. This type of training involves rewarding your dog for good behaviour with a treat, toy, or verbal praise and attention. Bad behaviour is ignored or corrected by immediately intervening and teaching the dog what to do instead.
Your primary goal is controlling your dog, but positive reinforcement training also builds a strong relationship between you and your dog. The level of understanding and trust that develops between you can be rewarding and avoids the anxiety resulting from confusion.
Positive reinforcement training for dogs can build trust and a strong bond.
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Avoiding Fear and Confusion in Your Puppy
The principles of positive reinforcement training can be relatively easy to learn, but you need to be careful where you go for advice. Many trainers advocate for physical punishment rather than reward-based training. Punishment may seem logical as we are angry at our dog, but physical punishment can often result in confusion and defensive behaviour from your dog resulting from fear.
An example is rubbing your dog’s nose in its urine or droppings if it accidentally toilets inside the house while you are out. Putting a dog’s nose in a mess made earlier will make no sense to the dog. The dog will most likely think the reprimand relates to what it was doing when you unleashed your anger. If the dog was greeting you happily when you began your punishment, it is easy to understand why it can lead to anxiety, fear and confusion in the puppy or dog.
Even if the pup associated the reprimand with defecation, this is a normal bodily function for a dog that it can’t avoid. Going to the toilet is okay, but not inside while home alone is too complex a concept for the puppy to understand. Instead, it will associate defecating with punishment, so you can see where this can lead to anxiety. Ensuring that your puppy or dog has had the opportunity to relieve itself just before you go out and as soon as you arrive home will make for a much happier relationship. Praising them for a successful toilet break will go a long way to avoiding future accidents.
Dogs will learn throughout their life regardless of whether we formally teach them or not. They understand words simply from being with you and listening. It won’t take long for a dog to understand the concept of inside and outside if you say, ‘let’s go outside’ each time you leave the house. If you use the term dinner, each time the dog gets a meal, it will quickly associate food with the term ‘dinner’. It is not that difficult to harness this ability to learn for reward to teach acceptable behaviour. Rewarding a dog for not jumping is far more effective and much kinder than kneeing it in the chest if it jumps on you.
Learning the Basic Commands
At the very least, your dog needs to learn to come when called. A reliable recall is one of the most important commands a dog needs to know. Control of your dog is essential for the safety of the dog and others it may approach. Regardless of whether your dog is friendly, it may get attacked if the dog on the receiving end of the approach is not. It may knock small children over or frighten them, leading to fines, prosecution and even the dog losing its life. Your dog can end up injured or lost or cause damage and injury to the environment and wildlife.
Other useful commands are; watch, wait, sit, stay and drop. Remember to always release your dog from the task you have given it. Failing to indicate an end to the job by saying something like ‘Okay, good dog’ or giving a food treat can lead to ambiguity for the dog. If the dog has to make up its mind about whether a task is over, it is more likely to do so in future. If it understands that it needs to keep doing the job until released from the command, it will be less likely to break it.
Timing is critical in training. Providing the reward at the right moment helps the dog connect the prize to the associated behaviour. Verbal praise given at the same time will eventually replace some of the need for food rewards.
Clicker training is one form of positive reinforcement training. In clicker training, a click sound accompanied by a treat marks the behaviour at the precise moment a dog completes a task. The dog will eventually associate the click sound with completing a task successfully to receive a reward.
One of the benefits of this technique is that with further training, the click, or sometimes a whistle, can be used as a bridge. Bridging is useful when the dog is working at a distance and can’t receive a reward immediately. A food treat or something else the dog loves must come as quickly as possible after the bridge. Because the dog associates the sound with having completed a task, the bridge becomes the equivalent of ‘good dog’ plus the promise of a reward to come.
Target training is often used as a starting exercise in clicker training. The dog will be rewarded when it touches the hand.
Types of Competitive Dog Training and Dog Sports
Once you have mastered basic training, there is no limit to how far you can go. There are many training based activities that you can participate in with your dog just for fun. These provide exercise, enrich your dog’s life, and are great social outings for the owner. Some of the dog sports you can participate in include obedience competition, agility, dancing with dogs, dock dogs, flyball, tracking, herding and more.
Obedience training involves teaching your dog to be well mannered and controlled in public places and around other dogs. Basic commands like sit, stay, heel, drop, or down are taught. By mastering more advanced behaviours at the competition level, the dog can achieve a range of awards such as CD (companion dog) and UD (utility dog). This type of training builds a strong relationship between dog and handler.
Dancing With Dogs
If you want to take obedience training a step further and you enjoy something a little more fun and theatrical, Dancing with Dogs is a rapidly growing sport. It involves fun performances in full costume, where dog and handler perform themed routines set to music. The starting levels referred to as heelwork to music are similar to obedience. Advanced freestyle competition involves more complex moves such as the dog weaving through the handler’s legs, spins, and bowing.
Agility is a great dog sport for active breeds and their owners. The dogs compete on a course that includes jumps, weave poles, tunnels and other obstacles. Speed and accuracy are major factors in competition. The sport builds a solid relationship between you and your dog as the dog competes off- lead at a distance. It requires excellent communication and understanding between the team as the dog relies on the owner for direction on the course. It is suitable for most dogs of all sizes as the heights of the jumps are adjusted to cater to smaller breeds.
Dock dogs is another rapidly growing dog sport for dogs that love water and love playing with toys. It is also a popular sport with spectators as the dogs make spectacular long jumps from a dock into a pool or body of water to retrieve a toy or dog bumper. In competition, dogs compete for the height and distance they can achieve and their accuracy in grabbing the target.
Many gundog breeds have their heritage in retrieving game for hunters. Although this activity doesn’t happen to the same extent as it once did, competition retrieving trials are still held worldwide. Dogs are judged on their ability to follow the hunter’s directions to find the game and return it to the hunter undamaged. These days, a retrieving dummy or a dog bumper often replaces a bird as the object the dog needs to retrieve. The dog needs to follow instructions from a considerable distance, so the sport requires teamwork, skill and a strong relationship with the owner to do well in competition.
Scent Work and Tracking
Scent work and tracking are dog sports with their heritage in the relationship between dogs and humans. While tracking and scent training still has a practical purpose in working detection dogs, they are also available as competitive dog sports. They are particularly suited to breeds developed for their sense of smell, but any dog can do scent work to detect odours, and most dogs can do tracking. The sport can challenge your dog’s mind, direct its energy and build trust between dog and handler.
Dogs have been traditionally used to manage stock for generations. Many herding breeds are now popular companion dogs, but you can still satisfy the drive to work in these dogs by participating in herding dog training and competitive herding trials. Many of the competitors have dogs that work daily on their farms. However, companion dogs can also participate. It is an excellent way for dogs to expend energy and develop a working relationship with their owner.
There are many other applications for dog training in the world today, Service dogs, therapy dogs, guide dogs, detection dogs, and guard dogs, to name a few. For most people, dogs are simply companions and a well mannered, controllable dog is a pleasure to be around. An out of control dog, on the other hand, can make your life miserable.
There are many places you can go to get help with training. Puppy pre-schools are a great place to start. Ask about the methodology they use before booking in to make sure they are using positive reinforcement methods. Dog and kennel clubs and organisations also run formal training classes and organise competitions based on training, performance and dog sports. Below are several articles to help you get started on your journey to a well mannered happy companion.
Further Reading on Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
Clicker Training: Getting Started by Cindy Ludwig, Canine Connection LLC
Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement or reward-based training which includes the use of a marker signal. A marker signal is a signal given to an animal at a precise moment in time to pinpoint exactly which behavior will be rewarded.
Hand targeting in dog training is a simple behavior to begin to teach your dog once you’ve practiced handling the clicker and treats.
Clicker training is a form of positive re-reinforcement training that helps build a strong bond between dog and owner.
Further reading on dog breeds from this author…
Getting to Know Dogs by Diana Andersen
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