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THINK LIKE A TRAINER

July 18, 2009

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Have you ever noticed that some dogs are just well behaved; they just seem to respond to what their owners want them to do?  You watch T.V. and see trainers doing amazing things with dogs, but when you try to do the exact same thing, you have little or no success.
As a professional trainer, I know I can make it look easy, Heck, I have 30 years of practice, It also helps that I have a clean slate with the dogs, they learn very quickly that I’m very clear and consistent of what I want or don’t want, and more important is how to get the things they want. Dogs are always asking; Did I do the right thing? Is this how I’m supposed to behave? ok, I know they don’t think in English, but if they could, this is what I believe them to be asking.
As the trainer; I think as if I’m their teacher, I answer their questions-not through dominance (anyone can do that), but through patience, technique and practice. Dogs love to learn, explore and achieve success, dogs need something to do that satisfies their innate behaviors and breed traits. You have control of those things they desire, social bonding (Attention & shelter) prey (food), prey drive ( hunting, physical and mental exercise) Play fighting for hunting or fighting (Toys and games) If you want a dog to listen and take you serious, here are some tips to help you “Think like a trainer”.

Tip #1   When teaching a dog something, your reinforcement or re-directions (corrections) needs only to be done for a second. You’re just marking a specific moment or thought in their brain, so a prolong reward or correction only ends up confusing them. It’s probably a good idea, as a dog owner, to understand how they think and learn before you can expect to have any meaningful relationship. I’m just saying…

Tip #2  Dogs need to “Learn to earn”. Dog are always being rewarded for their actions  anyway, why not reward them for listening,  instead of rewarding them for just standing there looking at you, jumping on you, getting all excited and plowing into your leg? You have something a dog wants and needs: treats, toys, praise, exercise etc. You need to teach a dog to “earn it” in order to get it. Have them use their brain to offer you behaviors that get them what they want. i.e. sit, stay, walk,fetch a ball or come on command etc.

Tip #3.  Never ask a dog to do something unless you’re going to back it up. If a dog doesn’t listen, you need to follow through, if a dog listens, you need to follow through. If you don’t follow through, a dog will start to ignore you!

Tip #4   Teach Basic Obedience commands. People don’t give this one the credit it deserves. As humans we start out learning the basics, from there we can achieve greatness. Dogs need to understand at least 5 basic commands and 3 advanced ones (shaking paws doesn’t count as one). Don’t be so impressed that your dog sits at a curb, thats really setting the bar low.  I’m also not talking about the dog in the kitchen with you holding a treat in front of their nose, luring them into position. I’m talking about control from a distance, around distractions with or without treats.  If done correctly obedience training not only teaches them what to do, but also teaches them what not to do.

Tip #5  Don’t use one word that has different meanings. If you want your dog to get off you, don’t say “Down!”, say “off!” if you want your dog to sit, don’t say “Sit Down”, say “sit!” if you want your dog to jump off of the couch, don’t say “Get Down” because they will be very confused if you then want them to “Lay Down”.  At first your dog will not learn the position that you are rewarding them for, they’re learning how they got there, so try to think of using a word or words per body movement.

If you have a bad habit of saying “down”, use  “Drop” “flat” “Lie” or “banana” for down

Tip #6   Teach a dog to ” Check in”. Dogs are not aware of the dangers in the world and for their own safety you need to teach them to “check in” or wait until you give permission to do the things they want.  Things like jumping in or out of the car, running to play with another dog, greeting someone, jumping up on the sofa or on you – all these may sound innocent but there can be dangers associated with them. To condition them to “Check in” you need to teach them a good “STAY” and more importantly, a “Release” command, “OKAY”, “FREE” or “BREAK

Tip # 7  Actions have consequences:  Dogs learn by trial and error.  When conditioning them, we can help speed things along by giving rewards for behaviors we like and using redirection techniques, or “soft corrections” for behaviors we don’t like. Using only positive consequences doesnt work, I’ve been there done that. Although it can work if you have lots of time, training talent, a border collie (or other smart dogs) or a bait bag glued to your hip, a young puppy or a dog with no bad habits.   We wouldn’t have to teach them that their actions also have negative consequences. Like when a child  does something wrong and is given a “time-out”, they to learn by trial and error. Yes, dogs are that smart. It’s not a correction using pain but mostly startling them- using touch, sound, smell, even time-outs. The goal is to mark the moment of their actions, both good and bad, so they realize their actions have consequences.

Tip # 8  Hand, body and facial cues are what your dog learns first – before learning the tone of the word or words, then finally learning the word. Only after all that, the words can be said in a different tone, then they can be said with or without any body cues. Think of a deaf person who has specific cue to correspond with a specific meaning. Use specific body gestures when teaching and using in real life examples.

I will be posting new “Think like a trainer” tips, please keep checking back. If you subscribe with just your email, you will be notified when I post something new

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