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Whether you’re getting involved in training a new puppy, re-training a newly acquired adult dog or simply dealing with your dog’s ongoing training needs, the chances are that sooner or later you might run into a minor difficulty or a bump in the road. Many dog owners who have issues with training seek the help of a dog training expert or canine behaviourist, and this can provide invaluable assistance to the everyday dog owner who is trying to do their best for their dog. But unless you’re having major problems or think that there might be a particular root key to your dog’s behaviour that is standing in the way of your progress, there are a few steps you can take yourself to review your training methods and how things are going. It’s certainly worth giving this a whirl in order to have the chance to put things right yourself, and possibly save the time and expense of consulting a professional for a simple issue! With this in mind, we have created our list of ten top tips for reviewing and addressing your dog training protocols, that can be equally helpful and informative to people training dogs from all walks of life regardless of the training methods you employ. 1. Ensure that you are being consistent with your commands- designate one word for each command such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ and use them individually and not interchangeably with other terms for the same action. It is also important to make sure that every training command sounds distinctly different to all of the other commands, to avoid confusion- remember that English is not your dog’s first language, just as ‘bark’ isn’t yours! 2. Be very clear when offering reward that you only reward good behaviour, and that you do so consistently. It seems obvious to never reward a dog for bad behaviour, but sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between a dog that is wilfully ignoring you and a dog that simply doesn’t understand. Use treats sparingly, so that your dog comes to associate them with positive reinforcement only. 3. Do not punish or reward your dog using his proper meals. Your dog has a basic right to be fed adequately and appropriately, and withholding his meals or delaying feeding due to non- compliance is a totally separate issue from withholding treats, praise and reward. 4. Ensure that everyone who will be interacting with your dog, such as other members of the family and people that your dog sees on a daily basis use the same training commands as you, and follow the same training protocols. If a friend or family member is not fully up to date with your dog’s progress and what you are doing with them, they should not issue commands nor offer or withhold reward at all. Keep their interaction with your dog to play and companionship only. 5. If you need to reprimand or punish your dog, a sharply spoken word is always sufficient. Never hit, yell at or intimidate your dog. Negative reinforcement as a training method has been frowned upon for many years now, and for good reason. Not only is it inappropriate and counter-productive for your dog to fear you, and fear will certainly not help them to learn, but your dog’s fear will in time come to affect other areas of their interaction with you and other people, and their general happiness and wellbeing. 6. Training a younger dog that has no preconceptions about training and has not had the chance to get into any bad habits is always infinitely easier than training or re-training an older dog. This means that if you are training an older dog, you need understand that their training will take longer, and their pre-learnt behaviour patterns will be harder to break. Don’t give up or consider that you are incapable of completing their training simply because you are comparing the time it takes to your frame of reference when training a puppy- training older dogs takes longer, and this is something you should account for. 7. If you can get your dog to perform a sequence of commands in order, such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘roll over’ ‘speak’ etc., this is great, and a good skill to have. But remember to also teach each command individually and ensure that your dog recognises each individual command. You may find that if you spend a lot of time teaching your dog the same commands in the same order, then your dog is not actually obeying each individual command, but has instead learnt that upon receipt of the first command (or first couple of commands) that they should run through the entire ‘sequence’ as you normally perform it. This can often explain the reason for dogs that will run through a training exercise without a problem and yet fail to respond to individual commands ‘in the field-‘ your dog is not showing disobedience, but rather, what you are asking of them and what they think you are asking of them are two different things. 8. One of the key tools to being able to successfully train your dog involves teaching them their name. It is important to ensure that your dog recognises and responds to his own name before moving on to even simple commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ You can use his name to get his attention and inform him that the next thing that you say, the command, is aimed at him. What can sometimes come across as non-compliance may simply be that your dog does not realise that you are talking to him! 9. When you give a command of any type, be it a well established command with which your dog always complies or a brand new command that you are attempting to teach, it is important that you always provide feedback in response to your dog. Either a word of praise for compliance, or a firm ‘no’ and then a repeat of the command followed by reward upon eventual compliance is important. This helps to keep your dog’s commands and their associated reward clear in your dog’s mind and can avoid later problems and the need to re-train or go back to basics. 10. When training or re-training a dog of any age and history, it is important to know when your dog has had enough and is becoming tired or frustrated. There is nothing to be gained by persevering after your dog’s attention threshold has waned, or he is beginning to get grumpy and unhappy with the exercise. If you cannot end your training session by rewarding your dog because they have failed to comply to the last command, move back a step to a simple command that your dog will respond to. Then reward them for this in order to end the training session on a positive note and leave your dog receptive to picking back up again another day.
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