Dog Training

Training Rehab: 

Spring is officially here, even if the temperatures don’t always tell us so. During a cold, snowy winter, with indoor space at a premium, icy streets and dog parks outside, it’s hard to keep our dog’s exercise or training needs on track. If you and your dog have fallen off the training wagon over the winter, now’s the time to get back on!

● Establish your priorities. The old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you’ll plan to fail”, so first set some training goals. What are your most pressing training issues? Identifying the problems you’re facing allows you to set some parameters for solving those problems. Now rank those issues in order of necessity or immediacy, and tackle the most pressing issue first. Safety issues should come first, and management issues second. Your list of issues might look like this: #1-Door Dashing/escaping the yard #2-Coming when called #3-Walking on a leash without pulling #4-Jumping up on family members and visitors Addressing the first two could save your dogs’ life, so you’d tackle them first.

● Get your tools ready: Since we know dogs learn environmentally, through their heightened senses of sight, sounds and smell, and not though verbal language, like humans, consistency of those environmental elements are important in teaching them. Define your training space with sight, sound and smell. Where can you work with your dog, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes? Can you encourage his focus by eliminating any visual distractions? Can you use relaxing music, or even aroma therapy, to reduce your dog’s stress and improve his concentration on you? You might designate a spare bedroom, the garage, a laundry room or even a bathroom for your training space, where you can work for 10-15 minutes without people, phone calls or the doorbell changing your focus. What will you use for a “marker”? Animal behaviorists tell us that any behavior that is marked and rewarded within 3-5 seconds, is the behavior the dog is most likely to repeat. If we’re working toward reliability and consistency, we need to use something that will tell the dog each time, he has done as we asked. You can use a verbal marker, like “Good Boy!” or a simple, audible marker like a clicker or a finger snap. Be sure to use, and prepare ahead, the treats/rewards that are most valuable to your dog. Find out what kind of goodies your dog will work for and use the best available to you. The old trainer’s adage applies: “The most generous trainers have the best trained dogs.” Don’t be stingy. The rewards can be small, but they should be plentiful, to keep him motivated.

● Next, it’s important to set aside a specific amount of time and a quiet place each day for training. Consistent practice is essential to learning, or polishing ANY type of skill. No pianist ever got to Carnegie Hall by only playing once a week! Set aside a regular time and schedule it on the calendar, as you would any other important appointment. Most people can set aside 30 minutes or more in their day to work with their best friend. If you commit to working with your dog for 30-45 minutes a day, in three 10-15 minute segments, you can easily accomplish your goals. If you cannot commit to consistently working with your dog for a minimum amount each day, dog ownership may not be the best thing for you or your dog, and your dog will probably not learn enough to respond reliably.

● A possible first weeks’ schedule might look like this:

Morning: 10-15 minutes Review the previous cues you may have already taught your dog: Sit/Come/Fetch/Rollover. Make it a fun session, with lots of praise and small yummy rewards. Begin marking and rewarding your dog for only the best or fastest responses to those cues. End your session with him wanting more.

Afternoon: 10-15 minutes Introduce the new exercise or cue you want to work on, broken down into small manageable steps. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise, marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt at the new cue. End your session with him wanting more.

Evening: 10-15 minutes Review several of the fun exercises you did that morning and incorporate the new exercise, into that session. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise, marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt. End your session with his favorite exercise or a repeat of the exercise he did best that day.

Offer him a big reward and leave him wanting more. Dogs love our attention, so spending that quality, one-on-one training time with you will be the highlight of his day. Work that schedule for a week, before to adding additional steps or moving on new exercise or cue, as your afternoon challenge.

● A second week’s schedule might look like this:

Morning: 10-15 minutes Begin your session with his favorite exercise or the exercise he did best the previous week. Incorporate the new exercise, you introduced last week. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise, marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt. Begin rewarding your dog for only the best or fastest responses to those cues. End your session with him wanting more. Afternoon: 10-15 minutes Introduce the next new exercise or cue you want to work on, broken down into small manageable steps. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that new exercise, marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt at the new cue. Review any exercise he may be having difficulty with, and reward him for the best or fastest responses to those cues. Offer him a big reward, and end your session with him wanting more.

Evening: 10-15 minutes Review the new exercise that you practiced that morning. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise rewarding every step and every successful attempt. End your session with his favorite exercise or a repeat of the exercise he did best that day.

● A third week’s schedule might look like this:

Morning: 10-15 minutes. Begin your session with the newest exercise you introduced last week. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise; marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt. Begin rewarding your dog for only the best or fastest responses to those cues. Finish with his favorite or best exercise from last week, and end your session with him wanting more.

Afternoon: 10-15 minutes Introduce the next new exercise, marking and rewarding every step and every successful attempt at the new cue. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that new exercise. Review any exercise he may be having difficulty with, and reward him for the best or fastest responses to those cues. Offer him a big reward, and end your session with him wanting more.

Evening: 10-15 minutes Review the new exercise that you practiced that morning and incorporate the newest exercise, into that session. Do 5 or 6 repetitions of that exercise; rewarding every step and every successful attempt. Review that same exercise he was having difficulty with that afternoon, and reward him for the best or fastest response, and end your session with him wanting more.

Building a progressive training schedule like this allows you to concentrate on the specific skills needed in short bursts of attention, while building reliability over a longer period of time. You’re continually reviewing and solidifying the cues he’s already learned, rewarding him consistently for the best responses, while adding new skills to his knowledge base.

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