Teach and Show!
Today we have wonderful methods to teach young puppies. The best method is clicker training. This is a way to communicate exactly what you want the puppy (or older dog) to learn. It is also fun and a great way to motivate a dog to want to work with you. Clicker training is a successful, positive training method. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the technique. Note: although I refer to dogs, clicker training applies to almost all animals. I have clicker trained birds and cats.
It is very sad that many trainers still use harsh punishment methods that cause pain. Imagine if an instructor gave you a complex mathematical problem and told you to solve it. The teaching method was to jerk a rope around your neck or shock you every time you got it wrong. Eventually you would either get it right or have a complete mental breakdown from fear and frustration. Whether you got it right or wrong, how would feel about mathematics? How willing would you be to do the next problem even if you were rewarded for finally getting it right? How well would you like your instructor?
Because people are deeply bonded to their dogs, they forget that dogs do not speak our language. They have an amazing ability to watch our body language, couple it with what we say and seem to understand. But in reality, they interpret what we do based on canine language and meaning first, even though they can learn what our body and spoken language means.
Dogs love to do things with us. They want to understand us, but we can make it difficult for them. When training a dog, you must teach and show them what you want. You cannot tell them. You must not expect your dog to “get it” immediately. Puppies can be especially frustrating because they may seem to learn quickly but in a short time, sometimes hours, they act as though they forgot the lesson entirely. In reality they have not completely forgotten, they have not had enough time to practice the lesson to have it go from short term memory to long term memory. Life for a puppy and a young dog is fascinating, everything is new, exciting and distracting. It can be hard for them to focus on a lesson. This is no different than it is for young children. Like us, the more a dog learns the easier it is for them to learn new lessons. This is because the young dog has not had enough life experience to relate the new lesson to something he already knows, but the older dog has learned how to learn. They can relate it to other lessons. This is no different than the way people learn.
If you show your dog what you want and then reward him for doing it, he will be willing and happy to work with you. Most dogs try very hard to do what we want them to do. Each dog has a different personality and drive to obey. Some breeds are not as willing to obey (being biddable) as others. It is important to recognize this. Before you train your dog, be sure to understand the dynamics of his breed. If he is a mixed breed a DNA test will help you understand the genetics that are dictating his behavior.
For example, if there were a flock of sheep in a pasture and a rabbit hidden in the brush. A Border Collie would focus on the sheep even though he knows the rabbit is there. On the other hand, if a Beagle were taken to the field, he would ignore the sheep and focus on the rabbit. This is a simple example of how genetics affects behavior.
Clicker training is a way to communicate to your dog what you want him to do. The click only says “Yes, that is correct.” What is very important to remember about obedience is this: Once a dog is trained and knows what the command is, the ability to obey depends entirely on how well the dog can exercise self-control, not on how well he knows the exercise. Even people have difficulty with self-control. Think about it.
In conclusion keep these points in mind.
- Understand the genetics that drive your dog.
- Teach and show your dog what you want.
- Do not use harsh methods.
- Give your dog time to learn what you want.
- Obedience depends on self-control–no one is 100%.
- Self-control comes with practice.
- Puppies need more time to relate to the lessons.
- Reliable obedience depends on positive motivation, not fear.