Every day, someone asks me how I got Bliss to "do that," whether it's basic obedience, amazing tricks or even sporting a pair of sunglasses! It's really very simple. Whether we know it or not, we train our dogs every time they are with us. From now on, make everything you do with your dog an opportunity to consciously train your dog to perform behaviors you want: while feeding, walking and even watching television. With dogs their behavior is either getting better or worse so it’s important to notice bad behavior right away and replace it with a behavior you want.
Rewarding Your Dog
What motivates your dog most? Usually it is food, but toys and praise are two more motivators to put in your training toolbox. Many people are reluctant to train with treats, but why leave out the most powerful motivator, when once a behavior is solid, you can wean your dog off them?
When your dog gives you the behavior you want, you will want to “mark” his success. Event marking is an audible cue. It can be a verbal “Yes!” or some prefer clicker training.
"Clicker training" is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it.
Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a "clicker," a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct "click" sound which tells the animal exactly when they're doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing. The essential difference between clicker training and other reward-based training is that the animal is told exactly which behavior earned it a reward. This information is communicated with a distinct and unique sound, a click, which occurs at the same time as the desired behavior. The reward follows.
Without hearing a click during an action, an animal may not connect the reward with that action. Or, the animal may associate the reward with another, unwanted action. With the click, a trainer can precisely “mark” behavior so that the animal knows exactly what it was doing. That’s why clicker trainers call the click an “event marker.” The click also bridges or connects the behavior and its reward, and so is also called a “bridging signal.”
Fast Food vs. Fine Dining
There are two methods of rewarding with treats: Fast Food and Fine Dining. Each method is used for different reasons. Sometimes, when teaching a new behavior, you need to instantly reward the dog’s success; that’s Fast Food. Fast Food is like a Pez machine; you pop treats in a dog’s mouth as an instant reward for performing a behavior.
Other times, you need to encourage your dog-in-training to stay in one position; that’s Fine Dining. Fine Dining is slower. One small treat held between the forefinger and thumb can be presented to the dog to lick or nibble as long as she holds a requested position.
If you are worried about overfeeding your dog, break the treats into tiny bits (about the size of a tic-tac), even for large dogs. They’ll think they’re getting tons of treats. If you are training often, consider reducing the size of their regular meals according to how many treats you use.
To avoid a “Show me the money,” dog that will comply only if he sees a treat coming, practice Intermittent Reward. Once your dog learns a behavior, delay the reward by a second or two, then longer. Also, change up the type of the treat(chicken, cheese, roast beef, etc.), as well as the amount to include the occasional “Jackpot” of a favorite food and lots of it. The benefit of this technique is that the dog never knows when or how much he will be rewarded, but knows he will be rewarded and sometimes hit the “Jackpot.” Eventually, your dog will do the behavior without expecting a reward, but always hoping.
Before you Start
· Always set your dog up for success.
· Smile when training your dog.
· Train a little and often. Several short sessions of dog training are better than one long session.
· Work incrementally in small steps.
· Capturing behavior. The easiest way to train a behavior is to observe a behavior you want (such as “Down”) and reward it. For example, if your dog is lying down, surprise her by rewarding her (as long as she is in the position) and introducing the verbal cue by repeating: “Good down.”
· Socialize your dog to be able to perform in different situations. Be sure each behavior is solid before moving to the next phase.
o Begin training in a Familiar Place with No Distractions (in the house) until a behavior is solid.
o Graduate to a Familiar Place with Distractions (the front or back yard).
o An Unfamiliar Place with No Distractions (e.g., a park before people and/or dogs arrive or after they leave).
o In an Unfamiliar Place with Distractions (outdoor coffee shops, department stores that allow pets, pet stores, parking lots, etc.).
· Reward all good behavior. Ignore incorrect responses with a chirpy “Uh-oh” and start over. Keep “working” the behavior you want.
· Stop if you get frustrated and resume when you calm down.
· Learn how to “speak dog.” Dogs read our body language and learn everything they need to know just by watching us. Learn your dog’s body language to know how he’s feeling and to anticipate wanted, as well as unwanted behaviors.
· Be clear and consistent in your instructions. Don’t repeat a verbal command over and over. Say it once and let the dog figure it out. If he needs it, help him out.
· Take your dog on walks to exercise his body and mind (and yours).
· Have fun and above all, try to be the person your dog thinks you are!