Friday, June 26, 2009

My Training Principles

1. Most of dog training is building good behavior habits and preventing bad behavior habits. A large part of curing bad behavior habits is simply making it difficult for the dog to engage in that behavior while simultaneously instilling a new behavior that you would like to become habitual.

2. Increase the rate of reward. I took this concept from Leslie McDevitt and I reward my dogs often! Especially for paying attention to me. In class, when there is down time an I am just listening to the instructor, I am consistently rewarding attention. If ever I am having difficulty with a concept I find increasing my rate of reward helps drastically.

3. Reward sucessive approximations. When I first started training, I thought I should only reward when the dog got it right. This led to much frustration for my poor dog. I now make sure that I reward each little baby step on the way to getting right, especially with complex behaviors, like heeling. I gradually ask for better performance as my dog's understanding of the behavior increases.

4. If the dog gets it wrong, it is never the dog's fault. So what if my dog has known "sit" for years. If one day I ask for a sit and he gives me a down, why would I not first assume that he got confused, rather than that he is being intentionally disobedient or sloppy. How often have I meant to give one command and actually given another? If I, the one with the big brain, can't always get it right, why should I expect him to? Likewise, there are many, many other reasons that my dog might not get it right: he is not feeling well (why do we so often assume our dogs are robots?), he is hurt, he is afraid, he doesn't understand what I want, I've been inconsistent in the way I gave a command, the dog is not trained to the level at which I am asking him to perform. I try always to assume first that my dogs wants to obey and there is some reason why it is at the moment difficult for him. And if I can't tell what the reason is, I give him the benefit of the doubt anyway. Just last night, for example, Lok and I were at class working on formal recalls. This is something we've been practicing at home--working on getting him to wait while I walk out and turn to call him. Well, as I left, he got up to follow me twice. As our instructor pointed out, I was being inconsistent in the way I gave him the command. I was giving the command as I was walking away and bent over towards him and he was confused. When I fixed my handling skills, he got it right, and did great! Dogs are so sensitive to our body language and I'm learning more and more how subtle changes in body position can totally change a dog's response to a command. Amazing!

5. Don't train when you're not in the mood. You will train poorly; your dog will learn poorly. Sounds simple, right? But it's sure been difficult for me to learn. I slowly caught on, and now I am pretty good at noticing when I am getting frustrated during a training session and ending it, and even when I am not in a good enough mood to even begin a training session.

6. There are many different ways to train any behavior. I am largely a self-taught trainer. My dog Lok had all of the obedience basics down before we ever set foot in an obedience class. I often find that the way I have taught things is not the way anyone else teaches them! Often I will set out to teach a behavior and change my method many, many times before I find one that works for my dog. In teaching people for the past five years, I've learned that people vary widely in their learning styles. The same is true of dogs. You just need to find the method that successfully communicates to your dog what you want.

7. There is no training method, tool, or technique that works for every dog. There's just not.


  1. i SO appreciated your tips over @ mckmama's blog! i have bookmarked yours and will be back again! :) we also need tips on JUMPING when we come home AND getting her to LIKE my husband (the only male in the household!) it's getting BETTER, but still not great! :) our pup is a little jack russell terrier - you can see her on our blog - i just did a slideshow of her! :)

  2. Great advice! I agree with you 100% on potty training. I have three Shih Tzu and have trained them that way. They love their crates, it's their safe place when we are not around.