You wish your dog would listen to you? Hope that the two of you will make a great team one day? Maybe you’d just like to get through daily life with your dog stress-free? To help out, we’ve put together with a few fundamentals that should help kickstart your training and put you on the road to success!
Set a clear goal before each training session. What exactly do you want your dog to learn today? What should the session primarily focus on? What does a successful run-through look like? What aids might you like to use? When will your dog have earnt itself a “jackpot” reward?
The CIT Rule
C = Consistency: Stay consistent, lay down the law, and stay faithful to it. Only by acting consistently and unchanging across multiple interactions will your dog come to understand your intentions.
I = Intensity: Make sure that the exercises you’re doing are appropriate for your dog’s skill level. Don’t overwhelm your dog, but at the same time, make sure it stays challenged! Keep within a framework that makes it possible to foster a stimulating and positive learning environment for your dog.
T = Timing: Keep in mind that a reward needs to be given within 2 seconds so that your dog is able to connect this to the behaviour it has just exhibited. Only then will it be able to learn from your feedback, whether this be a reward or aid.
You can help your dog during training with certain aids. These aids give a signal to your dog as to how it may improve its behavior or positioning. An aid might be, for example, gently laying your hand on its lower back, nudging into the desired direction in order to signal that your dog should move into the “sit” position. Another example of an aid is your leash – it acts as a radius within which your dog can move around. You can use these aids during the beginning of training, and then later on as a reminder if your dog is not reacting to your commands as expected due to being distracted, etc.
There are many ways to give your dog some positive reinforcement for its behaviour. Food, verbal praise, or even a toy are all good examples. Positive reinforcement is a good way to get your dog to repeat desired behaviour more often.
A clicker or a marker word are secondary reinforcers. However, they need to first be conditioned before subsequent use in training. This means that saying your marker word or clicking the clicker should give your dog the same feelings of excitement as a primary reinforcer, such as holding up a treat. As explained in the KIT rule, timing is key! You will need to click your clicker within 2 seconds of your dog displaying the desired behaviour in order to for this to work. After clicking, you must still give it the primary reinforcer, e.g. a treat.
Reward any particularly good accomplishments during training with a special reward: your “jackpot” reward! This could be special a toy that otherwise stays out of reach, or a special treat you only give your dog as a “prize” for doing a great job in your training together, like a sausage.
You should set up your training sessions so that you don’t overwhelm your dog. It’s better to train multiple times a day in short intervals (around 5 minutes) than to do one big long session. It’s also important to look out for signs of stress in your dog, such as shivering, frequent yawning, panting, or licking its snout. Take a break if any of these signs show up during training.
Make sure to give your dog plenty of breaks. A break of at least 20 minutes should follow each session (which itself shouldn’t be any longer than 10 minutes)! This way you can let your dog process what it’s learnt; you’ll begin to notice the first signs of progress as early as the next session! It’s helpful to take even several days’ break when attempting difficult or complex exercises.
Be sure to always act with kindness when training. It’s unhelpful to yell or be angry at your dog. Anger will only unsettle your dog and impede progress. If you do start to get agitated, waiting until you have calmed down before continuing can go a long way.
End Training on a Successful Note
After tricky exercises, have your dog do an easy one it can do at the drop of a hat, or one it especially enjoys. This is a great way to keep up your dog’s motivation!