We all want our dogs to fit into our lives and many struggle to make that happen. It is frustrating and overwhelming when our dogs "misbehave". When you get a dog, that is the start of your journey together and we, as the humans, are responsible for teaching them what they need to know to succeed in our weird and crazy world. To do this, there are a few things that we need to keep in mind...
Tip #1 - Manage Our Expectations!
Let's face it, you got a dog with certain goals and expectations in mind. You have a plan and when things don't go as quickly or smoothly as expected, it is NOT how you pictured life with your dog. Maybe this is not your first dog and you find yourself comparing the new addition to your family to previous companions. Give your dog time to settle into your home. Avoid situations you have not trained your dog to deal with in that situation. Just be realistic. Your dog will tell you if you are expecting too much of them and they need help. Think of it as information that tells you where your training gaps are and where you need to focus your training.
Tip #2 - Remember: Your Dog Is A Living, Breathing, Sentient Creature-NOT A Robot!
Dogs have off days, just like we do. Remember that they have needs and are not just little robots that, if you get the programming right, will do everything you say as soon as you say it! Sometimes they get overwhelmed or don't feel well. Maybe they are over threshold and they are functioning solely on their instincts-no thinking is happening! Are they just "stubborn" or have "selective hearing" or are they struggling. Be compassionate and supportive.
Tip #3 - Clean Up Your Timing
Timing is EVERYTHING when teaching. In order to increase a desired behavior, you have to reward it...immediately. I love markers for just this reason. Whether you uses a clicker or your voice to mark the behavior, this gives you a little time to fumble around for that reward. No marker, then the dog will think they are getting rewarded for whatever they were doing when the reward happened. The occasional mistimed reward won't destroy your progress, but consistently missing the mark will only confuse your dog and frustrate you.
Tip #4 - Mix It Up
Avoid the urge to always make things harder! Yes, keep your ultimate goal in mind but if you move too quickly and things are always harder, eventually your dog will stop playing. It becomes too hard and proper foundations are not built. I like to think of it in terms of "easy, medium, and hard" criteria. If I am doing 10 repetitions, I mix it up and ask for 5-6 repetitions of easy criteria, 2-3 of medium, and 1-2 of hard. Gradually, medium becomes easy and hard becomes medium and I get to introduce the next level of criteria necessary to reach my goal with that skill.
Tip #5 - Proof Your Training
Just because your dog can sit on cue in the middle of your living room when nothing is going on does NOT mean that they can sit on cue on a walk or if someone comes to the door. Proofing is all about working the skill in multiple scenarios, situations, and environments. Those distractions play havoc with your dog's ability to respond to a cue you think they "know". If they can't do it under certain circumstances, then you have some more training to do!
Our Dogs Are Always Learning
True, when you first get a dog, there are a lot of foundations that you need to introduce. Training is on most people's minds when they bring a new dog into their home. Don't forget about maintenance! It is like any skill, if it is not used, it fades. Training is a life long process and remember: REPETITION...REPETITION...REPETITION!!