Remember when you were in school and had a favorite teacher? That teacher seemed to have a knack for helping students understand the subject matter. Teachers who manage to successfully get concepts across to their students well have made teaching an art.
As in teaching humans, teaching dogs can also be an art. To take teaching dogs to that higher level, below are some keys concepts:
Timing Is Everything
The timing of corrections and praise (reinforcement) must be impeccable. As soon as the dog stops doing what you want to praise it is already too late to correct or praise the dog.
Consistency Is Key
If you do not want your dog on the couch, then he should never be allowed on the couch. If you do not want your dog to jump up on you when you are dressed for work, then he also should not be allowed to jump up on you when you are wearing jeans. Dogs do not understand sometimes or maybe. They only understand always or never. If you want your dog to lay down and he doesn’t, follow through by showing him what you expect. The easiest way to lose your dog’s respect is by not following through on commands.
Always Be Praising
Too often we focus on correction with our dogs, and never say a word when things are going well. If your dog is lying quietly on the floor chewing a bone, tell him what a good dog he is. Even if you have had a difficult time getting your dog to come back to you, being angry will only make it worse. You need to lose the anger and let him know he is good for coming when it eventually does. Dog training class instructors have a much more difficult time getting dog owners to praise their dogs than they do in getting them to correct their dogs.
Tell your dog, don’t ask him. If he doesn’t comply, then show him. However, firm does not mean mean.
Keep It Fun
Break up training with energetic games. Learning becomes boring and stressful if ideas are drilled. Games give everyone a stress break.
Help your dog to understand what you want from him. Once he has a good understanding of what you expect, then you can correct and show him the appropriate behavior.
When teaching, break each exercise down to small portions. For example, when teaching your dog to stay, the dog cannot be left while the handler walks across the room. Instead, the handler, after giving the stay command steps directly in front of the dog, standing toes to toes, and counts to five only. Then the handler then returns to the dog and praises. Corrections and teaching are done as needed. The distance between dog and handler can be increased as the dog begins to understand what “stay” means. Also, the length of time the handler is away from the dog can be increased as the dog learns what “stay” means. As the dog becomes steadier and has a clearer understanding of “stay”, distractions can be added, like other dogs, kids playing, a toy squeaking or a ball in motion, or other distractions (this is where the handler can be creative).
Often if a dog does not understand an exercise, it is because it was taught too fast and with too much assumption on the handler’s part. The exercise needs to be broken down into small increments and re-taught.
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