by Leighton Oosthuisen (Training Director / Founder / Owner of Partners Dog Training School - Email)
"My dog runs away from me, and doesn't come when I call her", Mrs. Smith tells me.
When does this happen, I ask.
"When we go for a walk", she replies.
I start out by telling her that she needs to establish some boundaries, and keep her dog on leash when out for a walk. Aside from it being a legal issue, allowing her dog to run free, cross roads or run into traffic, has some serious safety issues. I explain he needs some training in obedience; an education of sorts.
Mrs. Smith then tells me "He really is a good dog, so I don't need any training. He just needs to learn how to come."
Conversations like this happen everyday at Partners Dog School. Most pet owners have the best intentions when they rescue a dog. Even those that purchase a puppy don't realize that most, if not all, dogs need an education. This can be as simple as teaching them to sit for a treat; or as complex as addressing aggression issues.
Training teaches dogs to pay attention. It's all about establishing a foundation. Just like a child learns to sit down in class; so also dogs need to learn to settle an pay attention. We use heel-work training; sits, downs and stays. This teaches the dog that working for us, has positive results, and establishes a working foundation. It establishes repetition which is very good for dogs.
Reward is not about "treat training". Its about the dog learning to associate a behavior or response, with a postive or rewarding experience. There is a substantial difference between dogs on what is considered a "reward". For some its food; for others its play, and others still, its a toy. A high value reward is more important to some, than to others.
This is a timing and consistency issue. In the old days, we used to talk about rewarding your dog. Now we say "pay". It's more direct, faster and cleaner. As soon as the dog shows the behavior we are seeking, we reward it by "paying" the dog.
The reward needs to be timed to be exactly as your dog commences the though process. For most, this is as the behavior starts, and in some cases, as the behavior finishes.
Unfortunately, as much as we would like to believe it, not all dogs will work for food, toy or verbal toy. Even worse, many dogs exhibit inappropriate behaviors that include aggression, dominance or destructive behavior. Some behavioral issues are very difficult to stop by using reward-based conditioning. While in some cases training can "distract" a dog, stopping a dog from being aggressive by offering a treat is ineffective. But this is not a blog about behavioral issues; that is a subject for another time.
The good news is that most dogs are trainable, and most issues are solvable. But all dogs need an education!
An education provides:
You will benefit from an education! Seriously, you will learn as much as your dog, and in many cases, even more. There is an inside joke around trainers that "dog training" should be called "human training".
Don't be offended by that! We love that. In fact, most of our trainers are taught in people skills specifically for that reason.
But the truth is that 80% of our work as professional trainers is teaching the owners, and the other 20% is teaching the dogs.
Dogs are generally a quick study, so education is a gift that is both easy, and rewarding!
So educate your dog!