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As any professional dog trainer or canine behaviourist will tell you, training a dog is only half of the story. Just as important, if not even moreso, is training the owner or handler of the dog as well- something which doesn’t even occur to many dog owners. Taking a dog or puppy to be schooled by a professional trainer can give any owner a real head start in terms of ensuring that their dog or puppy is correctly trained, responsive and knows what is expected of them- but unless the owner also understands how the training commands work, how and when to use them, and how to manage their dog, even the best trained canine will end up falling into bad habits. All too often, the root cause of bad behaviour, unresponsiveness to training commands and general unruliness with dogs lies with the owner- understandably, something that any caring and conscientious dog owner will be keen to avoid. Whether you have hired a professional trainer for your dog, attend training classes or are training your dog from scratch yourself, this article will help you to identify some of the most common mistakes which owners make when training and handling their dogs, both during the dog’s initial training and later on throughout their life. Read on to find out more!
When training and handling your dog, consistency is everything. Lack of consistency from the owner can lead to lack of responsiveness from the dog in short order, as the dog will be unable to identify the commands which they are being given and so will not understand what is expected of them. Teaching your dog not to jump up is a good example- You must be consistent and tell your dog ‘no’ each and every time. It is not appropriate to let your dog jump up one day because you have missed him and are glad he is excited to see you, only to tell him off for doing the same thing another time. Climbing on the bed or furniture is another example. Set and stick to rules about where your dog is allowed to sit and sleep and where they are not. Don’t allow your dog onto the furniture for a hug one day and tell them they cannot sit there the next- Confusion and lack of clear, firm non-negotiable rules are the leading causes of behavioural problems in dogs- all of which are actually caused by the owner.
In order for your dog to be able to do what you want him to do, first he must be able to both hear or see, and understand what it is that you are asking of him. Keep your command words short, clearly spoken and easy to differentiate between. Use the same words for the same commands at all times. Make sure that your dog can see and/or hear you, and the verbal or visual commands that you are issuing. Your dog cannot be expected to respond if he doesn’t know what you want!
Think about this one for a minute! If you like to play ball with your dog, the chances are that you would, in an ideal world, like him to bring the ball right back to you and drop it for you to pick up and throw. However, if your dog has learnt that you will go to him to pick up the ball, chase him about to get it, and play a game of tug of war with him to get it out of his mouth, then the chances are that this added play value which you are providing for him will soon become part of his routine. Analyse how you interact with your dog- do you call him to come, only to then go and fetch him? Do you tell him to do something, only to do it for him? It can be easy to fall into such patterns, and it’s important to think about your interaction with your dog in order to avoid them!
In order for your dog to be willing to respond to your commands and try to please you, your dog must see you as the master- not his equal, and not his junior. Inconsistencies in how you handle your dog, yielding to his demands or caving in to a pair of sad eyes and an empty food dish when it’s not dinner time can all lead to your dog viewing you as being lower down in the pecking order than he is. Understandably, if your dog is the ‘top dog’ then he won’t respond to your commands- in his mind, you are there for his convenience. It is vital to be firm (but of course also fair) with your dog. Don’t blur the boundaries of who is in charge, yield to your dog’s whims, or treat your dog like a petulant child. Discipline is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with your dog, even if it may seem like harder work in the short term!
If you pop out with your dog for a few minutes just so that he can go to the toilet and take him straight back inside afterwards, your dog will soon learn that the longer he takes to go about his business, the longer he gets to be outside for. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, try to give your dog a few minutes of play after he has been to the toilet, so that he will do so as and when he needs to and you will be able to take him back inside quickly at other times when you are in a rush. Similarly, if you only recall your dog to take him home after a walk and at no other time, your dog will learn that coming when called (which is a good thing) leads to the end of his play (which is a bad thing in your dog’s mind) and so will negatively associate recall and obeying. If your dog is reluctant to come when called or to stop doing something which he shouldn’t be when you tell him to, it can be tempting to tell him off when he finally does respond. This again generates negative associations in your dog- when he finally does obey, being told off for it generates more problems than praising him for compliance, even if he didn’t do so in a particularly timely fashion.
Training your dog and keeping on top of his behaviour and training is an ongoing process, and it is all too easy to fall into bad habits. It’s important for the caring and responsible dog owner to constantly review their dog’s behaviour, and their own, and address any potential issues that arise quickly, before they develop. All of the issues mentioned above have their roots in the way the owner or handler deals with their dog and their behaviour- and you may even find that with this deeper understanding, you will be able to not only identify potential weak spots in your handling of your own dog, but be able to spot them in other dogs and owners while out on your walks!
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