Wow! Such a busy week! It has been so crazy at the office that I almost didn't manage to post today. Better late than never!
January 2015 is the fifth annual National Train Your Dog Month. According to APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers), they developed the campaign to shed light on the benefits and enjoyment of training and socializing one's dogs. In honor of this amazing idea, I want to give everyone some hints that I keep in mind when dog training.
1) Keep in mind that training is more than introducing a behavior or skill.
"Teaching" (associating a behavior or action with a cue) is just the first step! Once the dog knows what a cue means, it is important to continually reinforce this "teaching" by practicing the skill in different locations and scenarios. If you want your dog to respond to a cue with consistency, you need to provide many opportunities to reinforce what you taught them. This, too, should be considered training; NOT just the 6 class puppy or basic training you attend right after getting your dog. Training is a daily activity that is part of your daily interaction with your dog.
2) Don't train when you are in a hurry or frustrated.
It can be hard, in our fast paced lives, to slow down and relax. Spending time training your dog is a wonderful way to give yourself permission to take a break (after all, you are working on improving your dog)! On top of giving yourself a break from the daily chaos and irritations, slowing down and relaxing makes you more fun to be around which means your dog will be more inclined to WANT to engage with you and respond to the cues you give. Rule of thumb: don't do it if you are trying to rush out the door or are upset about something (including the fact that your dog is not getting it - frequently descibed by the handlers as their dog being "stubborn" or "mad").
3) Keep training "sessions" short.
Out of necessity, when you work with a trainer, you frequently have one hour (or more) training sessions. But when you are working with your dog without a trainer, it is best to work with your dog in spurts throughout the day instead of big chucks of time at once. Believe it or not, this is much easier than having to find a full hour all at once everyday. Instead break it up. Ask you dog for skills when you are engaging with them anyway. For example, reinforce the sit by asking for it before releasing to eat, putting on the leash, going out the door to potty, getting in or out of the car, etc. Make it a game by seeing how many opportunities you can find to reinforce a skill. Create a competition between family members and be creative with the prizes (like the winner gets to have someone else do a hated household task for them such as doing the dishes, cleaning up after the dog in the yard, taking out the trash, etc.)
4) Take advantages of the resources out there.
There are wonderful resources available from reputable trainers online. As long as you are an informed consumer, you can get some great information. National organizations like APDT and individual trainers like Pat Miller of Peaceable Paws put all kinds of tips, webinars, and instruction online free of charge. Just make sure that the training methods and philosophies being promoted serve to strengthen your dog's bond with and trust in you. For example, APDT has some great stuff available this month at http://trainyourdogmonth.com/tips/