There are many different methods in dog training. Each has its own pros and cons, and all trainers are individuals who are influenced by their education and hands-on experience. I wanted to take a few moments today to tell you a little more about my “recipe” for successful dog training; here are all my ingredients!
- Lots of love. If I don’t genuinely care for the dog (or his people!), then I won’t be able to connect with him to successfully teach him what I want him to know. This may sound a little hokey, but it’s a key ingredient. I think a high degree of my success is because I am genuine in the love and care of what I do, and for whom. The dogs—and people—can definitely pick up on it, and it sets the tone for everything else.
- Respect and trust. Likewise, if I don’t have respect for those with whom I’m working and build a trusting relationship, all will fall apart. One of the main reasons I use positive reinforcement heavily is because it builds trust. The more trust I build, the more my clients will comply with what is needed to be done to meet goals. The more trust I build, the more the dog will be motivated to work with me, and make the right choices. Respect and choice should be given and received from all.
- Proper management. A key element in successful training is management; if I allow the dog to continue with behaviors that aren’t desired, then they’re getting practice at getting better at them—and keeping them! If I don’t address criteria properly and my dog gets too overwhelmed, excited, anxious or stressed, then I will also have a problem teaching the dog what I want him to learn. Making sure I have the right setup and management plan in place is crucial to the success of everything else!
- Addressing emotions as well as behavior. If the dog with whom I’m working cannot relax, or is in a state of overarousal, excitement, fear or anxiety, then he cannot think to be able to offer behaviors I want. I may need to address this by teaching relaxation techniques, giving supplements, calming tools or medication if appropriate, and doing appropriate desensitization and counterconditioning to teach the dog that whatever it finds overwhelming is awesome. If I address the dog’s emotional state and turn it from something like fear into happiness, then I have opened the door to building trust as well as helping the dog return to a thinking state of mind, and reinforce behaviors I want instead of having a meltdown that frustrates and stresses all involved.
- Proper criteria. If a dog is being asked to sit in a very exciting environment (such as a popular, crowded park on a weekend) after practicing at home with no distractions, then I’ve failed. I have set the dog up to fail and will only frustrate him and the client, as I’ve gone from basic arithmetic to calculus! It’s important to know where the level of learning currently is, and how to build on it gradually for for continued success. Varying the difficulty, rather than making it constantly harder and harder, is also important—I make criteria easier at times, not just constantly more challenging. Doing this will make learning less stressful, more fun and faster for the dog.
- Lots of reinforcement for behaviors I want! It is so very important to be generous with reinforcement, especially when the dog is learning something new, is facing something particularly challenging, and when the dog is doing a great job. Good training has to have balance in this way; if I am too stingy, the dog may lose interest and it may all fall apart, or he may get frustrated because I’m not in tune with the great job he’s doing. You can always lessen reinforcement over time and repetition, and continued good performance, but it’s crucial to balance this with your criteria and the dog’s ability. I believe in being realistic and generous.
- Avoiding punishment, particularly physical corrections. Punishment doesn’t teach a dog what to do; it only suppresses behaviors we don’t want. If we properly manage, we won’t need to correct, and if we adequately set criteria, address emotions, and reinforce desired behaviors, it won’t be necessary. I’m not saying I’m perfect—I am human and have definitely lost my cool and yelled at my own dogs, or have been frustrated–but it is never okay to physically harm a dog. It may be a quick fix, but it can damage your trust and at worst, make the dog feel worse and therefore behave worse. There are too many pitfalls to punishment to have them in my toolbox, which is why I do not use electronic/static/shock collars and devices, prong collars or choke chains, or any tool that will apply pressure to a dog’s body or take away his choice. And while some tools may not physically hurt or damage a dog, psychologically it could be a whole other story, and set back your training instead of move it forward. I highly recommend reading the AVSAB’s statement on punishment for more about this.
I hope my recipe helps you better understand who I am as a trainer, and where my emphasis is. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Owner, Delightful Doggies