Who doesn’t love a fluffy little puppy? But can the same be said for those urine spots on a carpet, the chewed legs of furniture, or those headstrong dogs that do anything but listen? Whether you’re a new dog owner or one that has a four-legged friend who hasn’t taken well to basic training, there are things you can do to encourage better behavior. But to do so, you might need to take some time learning how professionals train canines and the ways you can set yourself (and your pup) up for success.
The Right Environment
Even before you start looking into the specific techniques of training, there are things you can do to make your dog more receptive to positive behavior training. Establishing the right environment builds a trusting bond between you and your pet that is more likely to lead to training success.
Make time for your dog: Negative behavior often stems from boredom or anxiety that can be allayed by spending adequate time with your pet. A minimum of a daily walk combined with playtime at home offers stimulation your dog needs to prevent boredom behaviors such as chewing or digging.
Routine is key: This doesn’t mean letting your puppy dictate your schedule. Instead, try to maintain a consistent routine of bedtime and wake up. Teaching your pet it can rely on you to leave and return at similar times, feed them at similar times, and walk them routinely goes a long way to alleviating anxiety and to building a trust bond which will pay off later when schedules shift or unexpected moments arise.
Mental stimulation: Because boredom can be a source of negative behaviors, finding ways to challenge your dog can help stem the impulse to be naughty. Playtime, training sessions, and games like hiding treats for them to find are good ways to keep your puppy mentally sharp.
Reward and calm: Praise the positive things your dog does and offer treats to reinforce good behavior. Patience, a smile, and a calm voice will go much further toward building trust than yelling, which actually may cause your dog to fear you.
The days of the choke chain and punishment-based training are quickly (and thankfully) disappearing. Most current professional trainers only adopt what is called force-free dog training. The basis of force-free training is operant conditioning, using two main methods within the operant philosophy.
The first method is positive reinforcement in the form of praise and/or a treat. The idea is that you positively reinforce good behavior such as sitting when asked so that your dog associates compliance and good behavior with pleasurable things and seeks them out again by obeying commands and by engaging in further positive behaviors.
The second method is negative punishment. This is not to be confused with positive punishment which is scolding, humiliating, or being physical with your pet, which are not recommended methods. Negative punishment means withholding an expected reward when bad behavior is displayed.
Once you understand these basics, you can arm yourself with treats, a simple well-fitted nylon collar and leash, and lots of patience to begin the basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come” that will build the foundations for later more advanced training.
The Basics and More
Beginnings: Acclimate your dog to treat training by using simple one-word commands. People often start with the sit command, offering a treat and praise when the dog responds. Once they understand the connection between the command, the desired action, and the positive reinforcement, you can work on other desired behaviors.
Walking decorum: You may have seen dogs out on the trails that seem to be taking their owner for a drag. This is counterproductive behavior that can lead a dog to a sense of dominance. Loose-leash training teaches your pet to stay in step with you and to react to where you are going rather than the opposite. Should your dog try to pull you along, you can teach by stopping and then calmly changing course. Use positive reinforcement when your dog changes course to follow you.
A proper welcome: Many dogs, especially puppies, are excited to see you when you return home, so it’s important to teach them early how to respond to you and to other visitors. When your dog barks or jumps, turn your back and ignore them until they calm down and exhibit the proper behavior, of course reinforcing that behavior with praise and a treat. You can enlist a friend to teach the same behavior when others arrive. Put your pet on a leash and ask your friend to enter. If your dog exhibits negative behavior, tell the friend to turn their back. When the dog responds appropriately, the friend can positively reinforce.
Aggressive behavior: Because aggressive behavior can lead to dangerous situations, this is a special case that may be best handled by a professional. Look for a professional with CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed), CBCC-KA (Certified Behaviour Consultant Canine - Knowledge Assessed), or IAABC (International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants) by their names so that you can feel confident you're receiving responsible and safe care for your pet.
Ivan Young is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with designer silverware wholesaler, Silver Superstore.