This post is prompted by my observations of dog owners and how they communicate with their dogs. As humans we talk, and we talk a lot. Overtime dogs learn to ignore most of our neverending blah-blah-blah. However if you want your dog to pay attention and do what you ask, make sure you don’t repeat these five common mistakes.
What is a clicker?
Clicker is a small and very useful training tool. Usually, it consists of a plastic box roughly a size of a thumb and a clicking mechanism. There are two types of clickers: with a button and with a metal tongue. I prefer the button type, because they are quicker and more reliable.
Clicker is used to mark the desired behaviour as it occurs. You cannot always give the dog treats (unconditioned reinforcement) exactly at the right moment, but you can use a clicker (conditioned reinforcement) to indicate to the dog that you like this behaviour.
I’ll be honest: dog training is not that complicated. There is a limited number of tools that every dog owner can learn. The only difference between an experienced dog trainer and an owner is that the trainer is used to spotting opportunities and creative ways of applying the tools. Alright, we, dog trainers, also have experience and theoretical knowledge that allows us to apply our tools to different cases. However, I am convinced that any person can learn to apply the basic tools to their own dog. That is why I would like to share with you the three most important principles of dog training, on which the major part of dog training is based.
Trainer Trisha’s post made me think about the things I have learnt about dog training. I was lucky to begin my journey into dog training, when the harsh and often cruel methods were no longer taught. I wanted to write “no longer used”, but it is not true. Choke collars are still being sold, and I still hear about people giving advice based on the old-fashioned ideas of hierarchy and “what wolves do”. I often face the challenge of persuading the owners that their relationship with their dogs should not involve concepts like “domination” and “punishment”. Relationship with a dog is about leadership and guidance, not dictatorship and competition for the “alpha-male” status. Would you really compete with a creature that is, let’s be honest, intellectually inferior to you? Our dogs look up to us. They want to please us and make us happy, because it makes them happy.
The most important thing that I have learnt is that dogs don’t misbehave because they want to be mean. They misbehave because we taught them so.
I have mentioned that Milo’s behavioural problems are to the most part a result of these old-school methods such as choke collars and severe punishment. I didn’t know then, but when I look back at what was going on, I feel terribly sorry for him. He lost his trust in people almost completely and it took us a long time to earn it back. Although he still has some bad habits learnt back then, Milo is the most affectionate and loving dog. Every time he shows his trust and confidence in us, I am sincerely flattered and amazed. I am greatly touched, when he lets us clean his ears, when he asks for help and when he is worried, if he lost sight of us during walks. I think: “Wow, how did I manage to earn it?”.
After all, this feeling of being needed, trusted and loved is the very reason why we want a dog companion, isn’t?
Dogs are extremely conservative. They prefer to stick to their set routine: to take a walk at a certain time, to perform the same dance before each dinner, to sleep in certain places of the house every day… On one hand, dogs are resilient and adaptive, and, probably, this is why they have been our companions for thousands of years. However, they are not as flexible as people. Dogs adapt to change, but they seek stability and consistent routine. Lack of consistency is exactly what caused the majority of behavioural issues. If a dog doesn’t know what to expect and what is expected, because the rules are changing from day to day, he feels insecure. If people fail to set boundaries and consistent rules for the family, the dog will take on this responsibility. The trouble comes from the fact that the dog’s idea of proper rules and boundaries is not what people would consider suitable. Hence, growling, snapping, guarding, battles for sofas and armchairs, terrorized children and pulled backs and shoulders resulting from being dragged on a leash.
The solution comes from the same source as the issue. Continue reading
Too many dog behavioural issues are caused by inconsistency and spoiling. Often dogs just don’t know what is expected of them, because the rules constantly change. Today the dog is allowed on the sofa, while tomorrow he is not. No wonder he can snap at you, when you trying to move him off it. If you have a set of rules to which you stick with no exceptions, you will find that your dog feels more secure and behaves himself. Below is the set of rules that I recommend to follow. Print it and put it on your fridge or somewhere you’ll be able to see it often.
RULES for dogs and people
- “NO FREE LUNCH” policy. The dog must earn his treats, playtime, hugs & kisses.
- BE CONSISTENT! What’s not allowed is not allowed.
- THE DOG WANTS TO BE GOOD.If he does something wrong, help him by explaining what is right. Always show him an appropriate behaviour to replace the inappropriate.
- NO SHOUTING OR PHYSICAL FORCE.
- IGNORE BAD BEHAVIOUR, don’t reinforce it with attention.
- REPETITION = PERMANENT. Applies to both bad and good behaviour. If you can avoid bad behaviour, avoid it.
If I could use just one dog training technique apart from clicker training, I would choose “time-out”. It can be used to correct so many behaviours: inappropriate barking, jumping, aggression… Although it clearly shows the dog that his behaviour is not acceptable, it is quite gentle and does not involve physical force. As my readers know, I will never recommend using physical force for correction, because it leads to aggression and damages the relationship between the dog and the owner.
“Time-out” is a very simple technique that even a child can use. It is a type of negative punishment, which means that you punish behaviour by removing something. In this case, you will remove one of the things your dog values most (besides food, of course!): your attention. You will need a light 5 ft. /1.5 m leash and a designated space. The designated space should be isolated from the rest of the house, and you should be able to physically prevent your dog from leaving it. Let’s try.
I am often asked why dogs like to roll in poop and other disgusting things. In fact, a significant share of stories about Milo has to do with him rubbing some odorous things on his neck and us trying to get rid of it. So why do dogs like to smell of disgusting things? No one knows for sure, but two theories exist.
Treats used in dog training can have different value for dogs. Of course, if your dog is like Milo, he or she will greatly appreciate even the tiniest bit of a rice cracker. Some dogs just love food, whereas some are completely indifferent to it. For instance, my parents’ dog, a border collie named Daisy, can easily pass a bag of groceries. Milo, on the other hand, works as a full-time vacuum cleaner in our house. I am so used to him picking up crumbs that I never bother to pick up when I drop something on the floor. Anyway, all kinds of dogs, “foodies,” “picky eaters” and every type in between, can distinguish treats of different values. Understanding value of treats adds one more instrument to your training toolbox.
Do you know the pleasure of solving a riddle? Remember the joy of experiencing an “Aha!” moment? With a bit of help, your dog can have such moments too. I mentioned the discovery approach to dog training in my previous post about relaxation for dogs. I like it and use it a lot because it has several advantages.