Everyone wants a dog that listens…the first time.
A dog that’s well behaved; a dog that has manners. We’re starting a new series that will help you have that dog. It’s not complicated stuff, there’s no special collars or leashes. All you need is you, your dog, and some really good food. This month we’re kicking off a series of articles that starts at the basics and takes you through to the advanced stuff.
Stick with us and by the end of our series, you’ll not only understand your dog, you’ll be able to teach him whatever you’d like!
We’re starting this ride at the beginning, of course.
What is dog training really?
It’s taking the laws of behavior and using them on your dog.
What are the laws of behavior, you wonder?
Behavior that is reinforced will be repeated.
What does that mean? If you do something that works, you’ll probably do it again.
In real life: if you find a shortcut to work that helps you avoid traffic, you’re likely to use that route more often.
In dog training: if you reinforce your dog for sitting, he’s likely to sit more often (and therefore jump on you less).
Behavior that isn’t reinforced will go away.
What does that mean? If you do something that doesn’t work, you probably won’t do it again.
In real life: if you try a shortcut to work and it doesn’t save you any time, you’ll give up on the shortcut.
In dog training: If your dog noses you for attention and you keep on doing what you’re doing, your dog will stop begging for attention.
Why should you care about how behavior works?
Dog training is all about behavior and how it works. Understand this and you’ll be able to teach your dog just about anything, solve lots of common nuisance behaviors, and get along much better with your four-legged friend.
It’s helpful to know some of the vocabulary you’ll be seeing here over the next several months. Here’s your glossary, of sorts. Behavior: Something your dog does. Lying down, barking, coming when called, retrieving, growling…all of these are behaviors. Cue: The “trigger” that gets the dog to do the behavior. Maybe you say “Sit” when you want your dog’s rump to hit the floor. Or maybe your dog barks when he hears the doorbell. No matter the situation, the cue is the reason the behavior starts. Consequence: What happens after the behavior, often a result of the behavior. For instance, the dog jumps on you (behavior) and you push him off (consequence). Reinforcement: A type of consequence that leads to the behavior happening more often. For instance, if I find $500 in my mailbox every time I open it, you can bet I’ll be opening my mailbox frequently! Punishment: A type of consequence that leads to a decrease in the frequency of behavior. Extinction: The absence of a consequence that leads to the elimination of a behavior. It’s imperative to understand that it’s the behavior that bears the consequence, not the dog. What’s the difference? The difference may seem slight in the beginning, but has a massive impact on how effective your dog training will be. Here’s a short and helpful example of the difference: Punishing the dog. Your dog poops on the floor while you’re out. When you come home, you raise your voice to the dog, point to the pile, tell him how bad he’s been, and then put him in his crate. Punishing the behavior. Your dog poops while you’re in the living room with him. As he’s mid-poop, you clap your hands together, yell “no!,” and put the dog in his crate while you clean up the mess.
This is the first “wrong turn” many dog owners make.
The difference is that you’re not happy or mad at the dog. You simply want to encourage or discourage your dog to repeat the behavior. Good trainers remain neutral even if their dog’s behavior is disappointing or maddening. In our next installment, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of reinforcement and punishment, easy ways to reinforce the behaviors you like, and force-free ways to get rid of the behavior you don’t like.