Whether you already have experience of dog ownership, are a new dog owner or are about to be a dog owner, then training your dog is one of the most important aspects you need to consider. Likewise if you currently have a dog with behavior problems, then dog training is essential.

However, knowing you need to train your dog and actually training your dog are two entirely different things. Just where do you start?

To successfully train your dog, you need to consider and understand some key facets of dog behaviour. Knowing and understanding these 5 facets will greatly improve your dog training.

1. The origins of dogs. Dogs are in essence descended from modern day wolves. While domestication has dampened or eliminated many traits, some key natural instincts still remain. Like wolves, dogs are pack animals. What does this mean?

Well, there are several traits that derive from being a pack animal. The important ones when it comes to training are dogs are naturally sociable, they are used to routine and they are used to a social structure (i.e. the famed alpha male).

As sociable animals dogs thrive on the interaction with other dogs. A dog does not consider you as a human but rather a funny looking dog. Therefore, dogs thrive on the interaction with you. Just like a wild wolf, rejected by the pack, if you starve a dog of this interaction, they will become unhappy and very agitated.

When it comes to training, you can use this to reward or punish your dog. Interacting with your dog (e.g. patting, encouraging/excited talk, etc) can be as much of a reward as treats of food. Similarly, ignoring your dog (e.g. turning your back, stern talk, putting them in another room, etc) can be a harsh punishment for a dog. Its definitely better than smacking them.

As with all animals (including humans), dogs thrive on routine. If they know what and when they are likely to be doing certain things, then they are relaxed and comfortable. They know what to expect and are not confused by ever changing circumstances.

Training should also stick to a routine. Decide when the best time of the day is best for you to train your dog and stick by that time as rigidly as possible. Your dog will soon get into a routine of expecting to be trained at say 3pm every day and will be prepared for when training time comes. If your dog is ready and expecting to be trained, then it goes without saying that they will actually train better.

Within a pack there is always the alpha male. The dog that leads the pack, protects the pack and ultimately ensures the pack is fed and survives. As mentioned, a dog sees you as a funny looking dog and not a human. To be a good dog owner you absolutely need to be the alpha male. How many nature programs have you seen where the alpha male is being challenged by one of the other would be alpha males? Likewise, your dog will be challenging you to be the alpha male – this is a natural instinct for them.

You must establish yourself as the alpha male from the beginning. Providing food, interaction, punishing bad behaviour, body and vocal language all go towards asserting yourself as the alpha male. If your dog does not consider you as the alpha male, then they will not listen or act on your training instructions.

2. A dog’s memory. We all know that goldfish have short memories. However, you may be surprised to know that dogs also have short retention memories. If you could tell your dog something, it is likely that by the next day or a few hours later, they will have forgotten. On the other had (or paw) dogs do have incredibly good associated memory. This basically means that if your dog can associated something with what you tell it then it will likely remember what you told it for years to come.

For example if you told your dog (assuming you could speak doggy language) that the chocolate biscuits were in the cupboard your dog would probably forget this within a few hours. However, if you showed your dog where the chocolate biscuits were, repeating the words ‘chocolate biscuits’, every time you said ‘chocolate biscuits’ it would probably go straight to the cupboard. It may also search the cupboard every few hours for the rest of its life looking for the chocolate biscuits but that’s not the point.

Therefore, when training your dog you need to associate the training topic with something. For example: if you are teaching your dog to sit. If you associate the word ‘sit’ by getting your dog to physically sit and then giving them a reward. Repeat this a few times and soon your dog will associate your command ‘sit’ with it physically sitting and then getting a reward. The difficult bit is disassociating the reward – ask yourself why almost every dog will naturally sit when you have food in your hand?

3. Doggy language. Despite comments above, we cannot speak doggy language and dogs cannot speak our language. This is important when it comes to training. You have to choose words for commands that both you and your dog will remember. Be careful not to choose very common words or else your dog will be easily confused when this word keeps appearing within the middle of a sentence. A common word often used in training dogs is ‘come’. For this example, it may be better to use a slang version or combine ‘come here’ into a single short word.

The important thing is that when you decide on a word for a command to stick with it and be consistent, otherwise your dog will become confused.

I know it can be difficult, especially if you come home to your new TV pulled off the cabinet, to always use pre-selected words when talking to your dog. Your dog does not speak human language and will only know what those few words you have trained it with are (and the tone you have used). So if you start using other words or different tones your dog will not understand.

Advertisements