My Winning Formula
Dog ownership should be fun, fun for the owner but definitely for the dog. You maybe surprised to learn that this is also true for service dogs. Dogs are little different to us and we all learn best when the learning is conducted in a fun and interesting way. I like to use formulas for everything. This is because I forget easily, so with simple formulas I find it very easy to structure things I do. This works well with dog training as the one thing dogs as a species need from us is consistency. This word crops up repeatedly with me as it is probably the biggest area where we as a species fall short and let our good friend the dog down badly!
Most of the advice I give out to fellow dog owners emanates from questions I have been asked time and time again by people. Most of the answers I give come from many years of studying and working with dogs, and not simply plagiarised work. I began playing with and having fun training dogs when I was about five years of age. My interests grew and were instrumental in my joining the police service where I became a dog handler as soon as I was able.
How we live with our dogs on a daily basis severely affects how they behave.
My formula for maintaining a contented dog:
7. Groom and massage daily
Activity – Provide and instigate all physical and mental stimulation. By you the owner providing these things (not another dog!), it causes the dog to look to you for fun and entertainment. It also exercises the dog so it is satisfied and sleeps and rests when not actually doing anything. It will be calm and will also eat its meals better if normally a poor eater. Make life an adventure – with new things to learn all the time and you being the teacher!
Bond – the above leads to a better relationship between the dog and its human counterpart. If more than one dog is owned, this interaction will help the dogs to look to the human rather than the other dogs. The correct relationship is also maintained by establishing the status of humans and dogs. Do not allow the dogs to steer the humans, but rather the other way around, particularly if the dog owned is naturally a pushy individual.
Control – This is not only control over the dog which is obviously a must, but also self control. Ensuring us humans are consistent in what we do when it comes to the dogs. Consistency is probably one of the prime things to remember when it comes to working with animals, but unquestionably with regard to dogs.
Diet – Correct, consistent use of diet can make all the difference with canine issues. Consider the time of day to feed. It needs to be at least 1 hour after exercise and never prior to exercise to prevent medical issues, especially bloat! It can be used as a reinforcer to help establish required behaviour. In other words the dog earns its food. E.g., the reluctant returnee will soon scurry back if it realises its meal follows returning to its owner and home. At meal times feed only a small portion of the daily intake and use the remainder for rewards to reinforce and not lure the dog. Although luring is ok in early stages when showing a dog what is required from it. Vary what your dog gets to eat. How would you like to be on the same diet for the remainder of your life?
Environment – A dog must have off territory exercise. If not it will become territorial and possibly aggressive. It may also be inadequately socialised as a result. Remember off territory means somewhere different. Your dog doesn’t care that you don’t own the area it patrols. If it walks, wees and marks there regularly then it thinks it owns it! Marking or weeing especially with un-neutered males is property marking. Each time something else masks your dogs signature with its own then your dog has to scratch out this rivals mark and re scent with its own. This includes exercise in all weather.
Fun – Ensure your dog’s life is full of fun provided by you and that it is free from fear and frustration which underpin almost all forms of aggression! And please – you the owner provide this fun and not another dog! If you want your dog to look to you, YOU HAVE to be its provider. This is so very important. If you own more than one dog spend time with each dog on its own interacting. If you don’t the dog may always choose a dogs company over a humans. I find this to be the number one root cause of recalling issues with companion dogs!
Groom – Your dog DAILY. This is a daily health check. Your dog ‘should’ love the contact. If it doesn’t you have a lot of work to do on the relationship between you and your dog! With a new dog that struggles when groomed, the sheer fact you are holding it and carry on with the grooming teaches the dog it can’t pull you about and that it needs to stay when you say. This is all conducted without confrontation and made enjoyable for the dog. Two of the rescued dogs (terriers) I own hated being groomed when I took them on, one actively would bite. Now they compete to get on the grooming table first.
My formula for training a dog:
Attention – Gain your dogs focus. You can’t expect a dog to do something if it isn’t looking at you first. I use the dog’s name for this. Teach the dog this by using its name in a different tone to when you are simply having a chat with it. The moment it looks at you reward it with a valued commodity, such as affection, game with a toy, food treat. Use real food; dogs much prefer this to commercially prepared garbage sold as treats! Use a variety of treats – not just whatever comes to hand at the time, and make sure it is what your dog wants!
Cue – Select a word and or a non verbal signal to tell the dog or cue the dog as to what you want it to do. Dogs tend to watch what we do rather than listen.
Guidance – At first the dog will not have a clue what you want from it. Show it, guide it using a lead, lure with food, position with your hand, anything, but show it what to do and say the command.
Reward – Have the reward ready to go. A dog needs to know that what it just did is the reason the reward came along. This must be done as soon as possible. Reward before the dog does anything else. It will associate this pleasant incentive with the very last thing it did. Mistakes here are how people ruin training, example; they call the dog to them, it returns as directed, then they make it sit and then reward the dog. The dog associates sitting with the reward. No wonder the recall doesn’t improve, but the sit is usually brilliant! Worse, the stubborn dog is punished once it does return; it then associates returning with unpleasantness, so becomes slow to return, until it just simply doesn’t return home at all! When administering the reward also mark the moment with sound or word. I say “Good”, but you can use any word; it is only a sound, so long as it’s simple and consistent. A device used by Skinner in the 1960s called a clicker is wonderful here if used properly. If you do this successfully the sound or marker will tell the dog the precise moment it performs correctly. You can then follow up with the reward. Think of a reward as payment and not simply as a treat, and remember, it doesn’t have to be food, toy etc. It can be what the dog is asking for or desires!
But let us not forget straight forward simple meaningful love and affection. We are losing the ability to show our dogs how we feel about them. No wonder we are losing control of our children when we can’t even show a dog how we feel about it! This is important as it is one of the most underrated aspects of training in our time.
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