Are you having issues with trying to train your dog at home? Or does your dog have a bad behaviour that you would like to eradicate? It’s extremely important to use the correct method when you train your dog…
Picture this, imagine you have moved to a new country. You have no family and friends there; you don’t speak the language or know the customs. You are expected to carry out a series of tasks daily, but you can’t even figure out where the toilets are.
This is very much what it must be like to be a dog in a new home. As their person, only you can choose how to integrate this beast into your life. You can let him guess at the rules and what you want him to do, and punish him (yelling, squirting water, pulling on the collar, tipping nose, or tapping bum) when he guesses wrong; or you can show him the things you want him to do and reward him (food, play, kind rubs and praise) when he gets it right.
If you are still imagining yourself in the scenario, which method would you choose? Would you choose to be shown what to do and get paid for getting it right, or guess and get slapped each time you got it wrong? And how fast or slow do you think you would learn with either method?
Positive Reinforcement Training
By engaging in a method of positive reinforcement to train your dog, wherein you put a name to each action you want the dog to do (Sit, Lie Down, Get Off, Come Here) and showing the dog what you want him to do before naming it for the dog, then paying him to do it! He can work for his meals and for a throw of the ball.
So many people resist training your dog with food, but scientific studies show it is the fastest way to get a dog to learn. The arguments range from – “I don’t want to carry food around for the rest of his life” to “he should do it out of respect”. Well, respect is a slow teacher, let me tell you. Would you go to a training seminar to learn a new skill at work if they didn’t pay you for the week? You know, because you respect the company so much.
Dogs don’t understand that the big bowl of food at the end of the day could be considered ‘payment’ since they have about a 3 second window for an action to be paired with a consequence. So empty the food bowl into your pocket and dole it out throughout the day. You don’t necessarily have to use special treats for simple training, just your dog’s normal food. And once he has learned something (like Sit, for example) in several different locations, you can start spreading out how often he gets ‘paid’ for doing it. When done properly, training with food is the fastest and most reliable way to teach your dog what is expected of him (trust me, I’ve seen the science).
Reward Vs. Punishment
What about when your dog is doing something you don’t like…how does reinforcement training work for that? Well, there are a few different ways…you teach the dog to do something else. Dog normally bolts at the front door? Teach him to wait/stay. Dog grabs food off the counter? Teach him to go to bed, or to lie down in order to earn food in the kitchen. (And keep the counters clear during the training phase so that he can’t self reward). Puppy biting your fingers? Teach him to touch your hand with his nose instead!
Punishing your dog, specifically physical punishment but scaring or startling him can lead to all sorts of behavioural problems down the road. Anything from noise phobias to aggression issues; food guarding to anxiety. The last thing you want is to tip a puppy’s nose for nipping as it can turn those little play bites into defensive bites and a dog that is scared of you.
So, instead of using negative reinforcements and punishments to instill fear or aggression in your dog, praise and reward them for their positive behaviour and you will have a much better time training together and living happily together in the future.
So with that in mind, here is a quick lesson you can try and teach your dog today.
This is useful to teach your puppy or your dog to get your attention without nipping (pups) or scratching at you. It can also be a base behaviour to teach your dog something more complex, like ringing a bell to alert you he needs to go out to potty, closing doors or pushing a ball with his nose.
Photo by Laura Garber, CPDT-KA
To teach your pup (or indeed your older dog) a nose to hand target, simply take about 20-30 treats per training session (I recommend they be smaller than your fingernail and easy to eat quite quickly, although his regular nuts softened with a little chicken stock or warm water will do). Rub something like a smear of butter or a bit of roast chicken on the palm of your hand, just to get the smell on.
Present your hand facing the dog and when he comes to investigate with his nose, the instant his nose touches, or nearly touches your hand, say ‘yes’ to mark the correct behaviour, remove your ‘smelly’ hand and give a treat with the other hand. Repeat this until you are out of treats. Don’t move your hand towards the dog – you want him to learn to come over to you and touch your hand, not the other way around. If need be, move your hand off to one side or away from your dog to create movement so the dog will be more interested in investigating.
If your dog licks or nibbles at your hand, say nothing, just take it away and try again. He will soon learn that only the nose to the hand earns the treat. After two or three 30-treat sessions (spread out over the course of a day or two), you can stop scenting the target hand. When your dog starts targeting your hand as soon as it is presented, you can add your cue word, or command (I use ‘touch’ but you can call it whatever you like).
So now, instead of ‘yes’ when marking the behaviour, start using your cue. Dog places nose on hand, you say ‘Touch’ and give him the treat. After another few training sessions, say your cue after the dog starts moving towards your hand, but before he touches it, still rewarding every time he gets it right. Practice in lots of different locations, sometimes standing or sitting close to the dog, sometimes further away.
Once he is getting it right about 90% of the time in most places, you can start using fewer treats, only treating every two or three times he does it for a couple of weeks, then every five or six times, slowly reducing the treats until he is only getting about 1 treat for every 10 times he performs. Remember to praise and/or pet him when he gets it right, especially if you want him to use this to ‘ask’ for attention.
Although each dog is an individual, positive reinforcement training works for every dog… smart dogs, stubborn dogs, crazy dogs, dumb dogs. Its just a matter of finding which reward (or reinforcement) work for that dog. Teaching your dog the words for things and then rewarding him for doing all those things helps create an obedient, happy dog and a lovable companion.
Marta Young is a qualified dog trainer with Barking Up the Right Tree (www.barking.ie) in North County Dublin and a member of the Pet Professional Guild. She has kindly contributed to ScoobyHub to offer this advice to train your dog effectively.
Is your dog already well behaved? Reward them with a monthly box of goodies from ScoobyBox, they will go wild when they see what we have for them!