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Train Your Pet: Basic Dog Training Principles

Train Your Pet: Basic Dog Training Principles

Here are some basic principles that all dog owners need to learn and follow:

1. Be consistent. A behavior is either acceptable or it isn’t. It can’t be acceptable on alternate Tuesdays when you’re in the mood. For example, it can’t be OK to allow your dog to jump all over you on the weekends when you’re in casual clothes, but not during the week when you’re dressed for work. That’s an obvious one, although you’d be amazed how many people I’ve met who do exactly that.

Here’s one that’s less obvious. It can’t be OK for your dog to chew fabric toys but not to chew “inappropriate” fabric items. In other words, if you give your dog an old sock and say, “Here, chew this,” don’t be surprised when she eats your shirt. Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and toughest for families. The more people who interact with the dog, the greater the likelihood of inconsistency. I strongly recommend that families conduct a few meetings to discuss and agree upon what will be universally unacceptable behavior on the part of the dog.

Everyone needs to clearly understand what the rules will be for a training program to be most successful. That being said, we live in the real world and I recognize how difficult consistency on the part of a six-year-old child will likely be. Parents of younger children will need to practice a fair amount of prevention and understand that the dog’s training process may be a little bit more difficult and prolonged.

2. Be consistent. Yes, I know I already said this, but consistency also extends to obedience commands. If you want your dog to learn to listen to obedience commands the first time they’re given, you need to be prepared to properly teach your dog to obey them the first time. This is most effectively accomplished if the initial foundation-level obedience you teach around the house is done off leash.

I have sometimes run into problems when discussing how important it is for dogs to obey commands consistently. In my opinion, this is an area where attitudes have gone downhill in the last 30 years. Decades ago the idea that a dog needed to obey commands the first time they were given would not have drawn comment. Today, there are many owners who are uncomfortable with the idea that their dog should be trained to respond so predictably.

I’ve had owners object, based on the idea that they did not want their dogs “to become robots.” It is important for these owners to understand that, first of all, if training is primarily done with compassion and reward this will not happen; and second of all, you might not care if your dog listens on the first command until the very first time she runs out into the street. Then, as cars are barreling toward her, you will pray she listens on the first command, because you may never get a second one.

The specifics of how to teach foundation-level obedience off leash can be found in Chapter 7 of this book. However, the principles of consistency really need to be understood here.

3. Understand why behaviors take place and deal with problems by dealing with the cause. When owners learn to do this, they will not just be reacting to what are often symptoms of an underlying problem.

4. Learn basic training techniques and then follow rules one and two. All owners need to understand the principles of prevention, maintenance, redirection, reward and correction. And they need to use them consistently. Now that you have an understanding of some of the challenges, let’s discuss a little bit about behavior, so that everyone can be clear what terms such as “prevention,” “maintenance,” “redirection” and “reward” really mean. Once you understand how a dog learns, we can get on to the business of training.