1 in a series of 10 articles
This is a continuation of my series “The Top 10 Training Traps and How to Avoid Them”
Since dogs have been with humans for a long time, you believe your dog understands your environment and comes into your home knowing most of the rules, and he will learn the rest quickly.
Although there are some dogs who fit easily into a household, most need help understanding how to navigate this foreign place. This is not a dog’s natural environment — it’s nowhere close to how he would live on his own. What you have welcomed into your home is sort of like a toddler from another planet! That should give you some idea of how much help and support they really need:
• Puppies typically require one to two YEARS of steady work. I said YEARS! The adult brain is set at approximately two years old in most dogs. Until then, your dog is developing. You need to help her transition from baby to adolescent (“rotten teenagerhood”) to adult. No one can predict how any dog’s personality will change as she matures, regardless of breed, so you have to lay good groundwork at the beginning. New inappropriate behaviors could crop up at any time during development!
• Dogs need a constant flow of information at the beginning so that they can understand what to do that will get them what they want. Making them guess or experiment leads to mistakes and reinforcement of the wrong behaviors.
• Dogs need clear, consistent information, presented again and again, in myriad situations.
• Dogs need less and less guidance as time goes on, but they will always need some help because they will never completely understand our environment.
Start thinking of yourself as your dog’s “tour guide.” You need a tour guide when you travel to distant lands you have no experience with, right? Your dog needs that too!
Show them what’s “right.” Tell them when they are doing “right” (they have no right/wrong, remember) so they can learn which behaviors bring good rewards. This will minimize your dog’s experimenting, which leads to many “wrong” behaviors. Give your dog a tour of your home by walking around with treats and raining them down upon him as he does “good” things. Use behaviorist Kathy Sdao’s SMART acronym (See, Mark And Reward Training) to remember the proper sequence: Notice your dog is doing “right,” tell her you noticed (“Good!” “Yes!” or “Yay!”), then give her what she wants (praise, treats, toys, outside, etc.). You will be amazed at how fast she learns about this foreign place!
Christy Paxton is the owner of Hand in Paw: Rewards-based Training for You and Your Dog, based in Brook Park. http://www.cp-hipdogs.com