training tips & tricks

 

PETS BEST FRIEND

Basic Training

It is a great event when a puppy or dog arrives in its' new home, he is often the centre of care & attention. Largely the first few weeks together which will set the pattern for your dogs future behaviour, so it is important to start as you mean to go on.

You must avoid two big mistakes:

*thinking of him as a human being as far as intellectual & emotional capacities are concerned - he is a dog!

*or, in total contrast, thinking of him as a mere machine, devoid of feeling & understanding. He is a living creature, dogs live in groups with complex hierarchical social rules,development is based on attachment, the first weeks are crucial for the rest of its life. This is when it learns the basic features of its environment & how to control itself. Communication involves all of the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch). It represents a blend of instinctive messages, reflexes & more complex learned sequences combining posture, vocalisation & emission.

A dog will adapt to very different conditions, families & environments.

But always remember, whatever the circumstances, he will always react as a dog, with a dogs understanding & reflexes.

Also remember he is unique- moulded by parents, birth, early environment, & life experiences.

 

Attachment/detachment

Very young puppies need someone to replace its mother, it will choose & always try to be close someone who can provide warmth, calm & comfort.

This new attachment is vital, for the pup to be able to start to discover the human world.

From an early age, you will need to teach your dog that it is ok to be on its own, initially for very short periods (a few minutes) building up to longer periods. You need to to make sure that you initiate contact between you & the little dog & not the puppy. This will help him put up with you being absent, this way it will not suffer from an all too common pathology: separation anxiety, causing the dog to howl, ravage or foul the house when alone. This pathology is well known & easy to treat.

 

So why train?

Training is a vital part of your relationship with him as it bonds the dog & owner.

Teaching your dog even basic commands means you can control his actions, & ensures he fits in with society. It's the responsibility of all dog owners to ensure that dogs are controlled in public places.

Ideally, all dogs would be trained as puppies as they learn more quickly and, once they've mastered the commands, with practice they retain them for life.

However, if you've re-homed a dog this may not be possible. Sometimes you may find yourself faced with a dog which has either never been trained or has forgotten what he was taught in the first place. Do not despair! Training classes are a good idea & there are also lots of commands you can teach your dog yourself at home.

Before you start.

Before you start training, there are a few useful things to remember.

 

Make training sessions a positive experience for you & your dog.

 

Keep sessions short - 3 x 10min sessions are better than one 30 min one.

 

Always end on a good note - ask your dog to do something he's good at & reward him well.

 

Do not try to train your dog if you feel frustrated or angry, you will pass these feelings on to the dog.

 

Use kind facial expressions & body posture, be clear in your commands. Reinforce each command with hand, arm or body signals.

 

Be consistent in your training & praise, use the same commands & praise each time.

 

Reward correct actions immediately.

 

Use rewards - whether treats, toys or praise - use as many as you can. This will keep your dog guessing & fuel his motivation.

 

Make training sessions fun! Dogs are born to play, so if the session is fun he will be more likely to learn and remember.

 

It may take weeks of patience over many training sessions until he gets it right every time. Don't expect too much of him too soon - he's not designed to respond to the spoken word, so if you don't think he's quite understood, keep trying.

 

Dogs learn by association - they learn to associate actions with rewards. Keep distractions to a minimum to begin with, then increase them slowly, and try to repeat training sessions in as many different locations as you can. Your dog should pick up on the fact that anything around him is irrelevant, and that only the command that leads to the correct action gets the reward.

 

Sit

Getting your dog to sit is one of the most basic commands & the most useful. You have more control over your dog & you can get him to calm down when meeting people or being checked over.

 

The basic method for getting your dog to sit on command.

Offer a reward and ask the dog to sit. If he doesn't, hold the treat right in front of his nose.

 

Move the treat upwards & backwards, over his head. As his nose follows it, his bottom should go down.

If he moves backwards, place him against a wall so he can't reverse.

 

Give him the treat as soon as his bottom touches the floor, with lots of praise.

Practise this sequence over several sessions until the dog begins to understand what he has to do.

Eventually he will learn to sit when you hold the treat above him & the word "sit" is associated with the treat.

 

Practise in lots of different locations & circumstances until he always sits when you ask him to.

Down

The down command naturally follows 'sit' & is a crucial part of dog training. If you can get your dog to go into the down position you may well be able to stop him getting into trouble, especially if other dogs come along. He will seem subservient & not up for a fight. It is also an important factor in gaining control.

 

There are 3 ways to teach the down position and you should stick to one method in order not to confuse your dog.

Method 1 - the conventional route

Get your dog to sit holding a treat between your finger and thumb just over his nose

Gradually lower the treat & get him to follow it to the floor whilst giving the down command

Once he is lying down give him the treat

Repeat several times

Method 2 - the reward

Get your dog to lie down by repeating the down command & offering praise or a treat each time he responds

Repeat several times then wait for your dog to lie down of his own accord

The good associations will make him want to go down when you ask him

Method 3 - one for the puppies

Crouch down on the floor with one leg out to the side in a bridge position, leaving just enough room for the puppy to crawl underneath

He should automatically go into the down position - as soon as he does, reward him with a treat

Repeat this technique several times then gradually start taking your leg away as he gets the hang of it

Eventually you should wait for the down to happen without giving him the command - when that happens, reward your puppy.

Recall

Being able to effectively recall your dog at any time is very important. Recall is all about being a responsible dog owner.

 

Apart from 'selective hearing', there are several reasons why dogs don't come when called:

*Some owners tell their dogs off when they eventually come back, which gives the dog very confusing signals. He won't want to come back in this case he'll be too afraid of being punished

*Some dogs look for their own entertainment, such as playing with other dogs/chasing squirrels & don't want the fun to end

*Owners sometimes inadvertently teach dogs not to come back by using the command at the wrong time. If your dog is involved in play or exploring whilst being called he may associate the signal 'come' not with coming to you, but with the activity he was enjoying at the time

Step 1

Begin in a controlled environment such as indoors/a fenced-in garden, where there are no distractions

Always use the same recall command and never sound angry

Try calling his name throughout the day and get him to come to you - when he does, give him a treat or initiate a game

Make coming to you fun - it's the best incentive!

Step 2

Once your dog has learnt to come when you call his name, add the recall command so that he gets used to the sound

Step 3

Once he gets the recall command, try introducing a few distractions by taking him outside. Keep him on a long lead and see if he will still come to you

Step 4

When you are confident that your dog has learnt recall, go to the park let him off the lead (making sure that it's safe & allowed!)

Try going out with another dog owner whose dog is used to being called in open spaces

Recall both dogs at the same time & reward the one who gets back first

 

Walking to heel

Teaching your dog to walk alongside you, to heel, is an essential part of his training. There is nothing more frustrating or exhausting as an owner than taking the dog out for a walk & being dragged all the way. If your dog is constantly pulling on the lead, you have no control over him, & unwanted behaviours may well develop as a result. Walking to heel, both on & off the lead, is essential for basic control.

There are several ways to teach your dog to walk to heel, but you should choose and stick to one to avoid confusing him.

Step 1

Position yourself so that your dog walks on your left

Hold the lead across you in your right hand, it helps you gain control

You can train the dog on the right hand side, but heel work is done on the left at training classes & in obedience, so if you want to do either of these, start training on the left hand side. The aim is to get your dog to walk along beside you rather than pulling away in front of you

Step 2

It is essential that you persevere with the heel training, your dog will not learn overnight but with time he will come to learn what you expect of him

Every time the dog pulls forward & you feel the lead tightening, stand still and hold your position by keeping your arms to your side

If your dog continues to pull, give the lead a firm tug. He should stop pulling immediately

Step 3

When your dog turns to see why you have stopped, encourage him to come back to you by speaking to him, giving him a treat

when he returns to your side, continue walking or turn around

Step 4

Keep the lead fairly loose and carry on walking, as long as your dog isn't pulling on the lead

Whenever he does pull and the lead tightens repeat stages 1,2 & 3

Your dog doesn't need to be by your side all the time; with a flexi-lead he can have a wander but the lead should remain slack

Advice

Emotions & fears will travel down the lead so a tight leash may trigger undesirable reactions, such as aggressiveness towards other dogs.

Taking your dog out

While taking all necessary precautions not to expose it to pointless risks (places soiled by other animals & contact with unvaccinated animals), do walk your dog as soon as possible. To be at ease in its world, the puppy needs to experience as much as possible as soon as possible.

By walking your dog, you help it adapt to urban life & contact with strangers.

Should your dog seem unduly afraid when you first take it out, do not stroke it for reassurance: you would be rewarding & reinforcing, its fear! Just act as though nothing is wrong, start a game with it by way of distraction. If this is just too hard & your puppy is unable to respond to you in this way, a Vet will be able to advise.

Jumping up

Part of the process of training is teaching your dog not to display unwanted behaviours. Some behavioural traits may have been acceptable, even encouraged during puppyhood, but can become undesirable as the puppy grows up. Jumping up is one of these.

 

Dogs jump up at people as a form of greeting & always seem to be attempting to get as close to the person's mouth as possible. If your reaction to this is either attention or affection, your dog will assume that it's in its interest to carry on jumping up in order to keep being rewarded. However, jumping up is not always desirable and could even be dangerous to a frail person or a small child. To stop this behaviour, follow some simple steps:-

Step 1 - ignore the dog

Each time your dog jumps up at you, turn away from him, ignore him and walk away ( remember: this means no eye contact, touching or speaking)

If his four paws remain on the ground, reward your dog calmly - don't go over the top with the praise, as this may overexcite him & undo your good work

Step 2 - vary the praise when he doesn't jump up

Vary your praise between a simple smile, a 'good dog', a gentle stroke or a treat. This will also keep your dog guessing & teach him not to expect food as a regular and predictable reward

Praise is a very useful tool in teaching your dog to behave, as he will quickly learn which actions bring which rewards, that the results are always more rewarding when he chooses to practice good behaviour instead of bad

Step 3 - teach him to sit instead of jump

Use the sit command when your dog jumps up, followed by praise when he does sit

As he learns to associate this action with praise, your dog should start sitting without being told

You should still praise him for it, to strengthen the good associations

Play biting and mouthing

To a dog, mouthing is simply another one of his ways of communicating - by taking your hand in his mouth to get your attention, but in a far gentler way than a bite. Puppies interact with their mother & siblings by pulling at their ears and tails - not intending to hurt or alarm them, but simply to get attention.

However, as puppies grow up, so do their teeth, other 'pack members' & some owners - become intolerant of any biting behaviour. When a puppy goes into a home environment he must be taught which behaviour is acceptable to his new family. To correct mouthing and play biting in an adult dog, follow these steps.

Step 1 - just say "no"

When your dog starts to mouth or play bite, give a loud yelp or a firm "no" command

Ignore the dog for a few minutes

He should learn that he gets more attention & praise by not using his mouth

 

Step 2 - the reward for getting 'off'

Hold a treat & make sure you have your dog's attention

Get him to sit so he is focused on the treat, held just in front of his face

When he tries to jump up & snatch the food, take it out of his reach and say "off" quietly & firmly

When he turns his face away or steps back, give him the reward & praise him

Keep up the training regularly, once he's got the knack of the "off" command you can use it to stop your dog from mouthing or play biting.

Remember to give praise where it's earned!

Car travel

Two common problems include barking during car journeys & frantic "chasing" activity - in other words, a dog who just can't keep quiet - or still - in the car.

 

1. Walkies

The majority of trips your dog takes in the car with you usually end up in "walkies", which is very exciting for the dog. Unfortunately, dogs often express their delight by barking in your ear! Try breaking this behaviour pattern:

 

Take your dog on ordinary, mundane trips in the car, outside his regular walking routine. Once he realises that not every car journey is worth getting worked up about, his behaviour should calm down.

Take your dog in the car to your usual walking place. If he barks during the journey, don't react. To the dog, your reaction to him reinforces his excitement. Once you reach your destination, wait in the car until he calms down. This will help to break the associations he has built up with travelling in the car.

You can also try pulling over & stopping the car whenever your dog gets over excited, not starting again until he's calmed down.

2. Car madness

Dogs that bark at anything they see out of the windows can be very wearing, especially on long journeys. Your dog could be doing this for one of two reasons: either he is possessive & attempting to "guard" your car, or he could be showing signs of hunting or herding behaviour - trying to "round up" passing vehicles. Use a lead attached to your dog's collar, so he is able to lie down comfortably below window level in the back of the car (in a hatchback or estate). If he can't see the back of your head when you are driving he is less likely to bark to attract your attention. This is also a good idea from a safety point of view, in the event of a car crash.

puppies

Stopping this type of behaviour in puppies is relatively easy - just make sure he travels in the back of the car from the moment you take him home. Small, cute, vulnerable puppies are often allowed to travel on a passenger's lap, where he gets lots of attention. When he gets bigger & is expected to travel in the back of the car, it's not surprising that he starts to bark or misbehave - he's just trying to get the attention he's come to expect in the car.

Car Sick?

Many dogs suffer from car sickness when travelling. In puppies, it may be a reaction to being taken away from their mother / litter & being placed in a strange moving environment, it could lead to traumatic associations with cars in later life. There are ways to reduce some of this anxiety & encourage happy & nausea-free travel. Of course, if problems continue, you should see your vet.

Introduce your dog to the car when you don't have plans to go anywhere in it.

Take your dog's meal outside, put it in the car with him watching. Let him jump in & eat it. Repeat this exercise to reinforce good associations with the car.

Avoid feeding the dog before you begin a journey.

When on the move, provide fresh air, but don't let your dog travel with his head out of the window, as this can cause eye damage.

Avoid smoking in the car. This can make people nauseous, so we can assume that it won't help a dog who is feeling queasy either.

On long journeys, make sure you make regular stops for brief walks, this benefits the driver too.

If your dog looks confident & happy when the car is in motion, feed him small pieces of food as a reward, & to build up good associations.

Teaching your dog where & when to go to the toilet

When housetraining your dog, it doesn't matter if it's a puppy or an adult dog, your aim is to teach him that it is not acceptable to go to the toilet in the house. Any new dog requires some training, but rescue dogs can present more of a challenge, as less is known of their history & they may have unknown triggers which cause them to mess at home.

 

*Learn to predict when your dog will need to go to the toilet, usually after he has eaten, woken up, after a play session or after any exciting event. Most dogs will do a number of things before they mess the carpet. They may sniff around, begin to circle or squat, & appear to be distracted

 

*When you suspect that your dog needs to go to the toilet, encourage him to come into the garden. Show him to the same place each time & give a simple command, such as "Be quick!". Wait with him, if he goes to the toilet, praise him while he is doing it, then praise him enthusiastically afterwards, give him a tasty food treat or initiate a game

 

*If your dog is showing no signs of relieving himself after a few minutes, take him back indoors. At this stage you know he is very likely to go in the near future so supervise him constantly. If he begins to sniff around or circle, clap your hands or call out to interrupt the behaviour, then lead him back to the garden

 

*At times when you are unable to supervise your dog, it is important to confine him somewhere where you won't mind if he makes a mess

NEVER punish him for messing in the house, train him out of it instead. If you punish him it may make him more fearful & prone to go to the toilet even more. He may try to hide his mess from you, either by going in concealed areas, such as behind the sofa, or by eating the evidence! It may also encourage him never to go to the toilet in front of you, making housetraining practically impossible.

*Accidents will happen! Try not to be upset or be angry with him. Clean the soiled area with biological washing powder solution or special products available from your veterinary practice. Many other household cleaning products will not remove the smell entirely & your dog may be attracted back to the area.

* "Putting its nose in it" is not a punishment -dogs quite happily do this themselves! & he wont know what you're so cross about. He may "look sorry" but would, even if you scolded him for nothing at all! He reacts to your expression rather than to anything he may have done.

Fears and Phobias

Dogs can harbour anxieties & phobias just like we do, but often to an even greater extent. Common phobias often include vacuum cleaners, thunder or any loud, sudden noises, but some dogs can have even more irrational-seeming fears such as brooms.

If you have had your dog since puppyhood, you may be able to work out the triggers which make him behave this way. But, re-homed dogs may present more of a challenge, as less is known of their history.

 

Puppy to Adult

As a puppy is growing up he will naturally come across a wide range of new & potentially frightening, even terrifying, situations. But with the reassuring presence of his mother, brother, sisters, & eventually his owner, the young dog can get used to dealing with them. Any dog's future depends on his early experiences & training, as does his capacity to assess situations more or less likely to cause fear or distress.

 

Another factor is where & how the puppy has been raised. If reared in a quiet, remote area where he is unaccustomed to everyday noises, then he will of course become immediately suspicious or fearful in a noisy environment.

 

If adult dogs develop a fear then this could rub off onto a litter. It is important to introduce any puppy to as many different noises & places as possible whilst he is young enough to decrease the chance of such phobias arising later in life.

 

Even if an adult dog finds certain situations terrifying, it is never too late to take remedial action.

Thunderstorms often cause panic for several reasons. Firstly, changes take place in atmospheric pressure and humidity, which dogs are far more sensitive to than humans. Then there are changes in light conditions; in particular a darkening sky & flashes of lightening. Finally, there is usually heavy rainfall punctuated by loud claps of thunder. Although it is clearly not possible for the owner to familiarise the dog with all these eventualities, much can be done to overcome any fear of loud noises.

 

Desensitisation - Four Easy Steps

Play your dog a recording of the sound that frightens him, remember to start with the volume low, build it up gradually

Offer your dog treats or initiate a game at the same time, to distract him from the recording

If he takes the treat or joins in the game, praise him

Repeat this procedure every time you encounter the phobia, and in time your dog will become more relaxed and desensitised

 

There are a number of soundtracks available with a range of noises - from children crying, fireworks, gunshots etc. - that you can use to help with the process. These are available from any major music retailers. Alternatively, you could record some soundtracks of your own to play back to your dog.

Mental and Physical Stimulation

Many owners find it difficult to give their dogs a lot of exercise. But, interaction with your dog is always important, whether or not you are restricted in where you can walk him. Depending on his individual needs, you need to make sure you are keeping your dog both physically fit & mentally alert. For example, if you own a Border Collie, a daily walk is not enough. Collies are highly intelligent & will need plenty of additional stimuli at home regardless of whether or not you are with them all day.

 

physical stimulation

Games involving both you & your dog working together are an excellent & enjoyable way of training your dog in simple tasks. They can also provide him with some of the mental stimulation he may be lacking. Here are some guidelines for a simple retrieval exercise which you can try at home in the garden:

 

Step 1: "FETCH!"

Tell your dog to sit, start by throwing something - perhaps a favourite toy or a ball- about six paces away from you.

As you throw it, tell your dog to "fetch".

As he runs after it, follow him for a few paces.

Step 2: GIVE & TAKE

As the dog picks up the toy, run away from him, so he chases you.

When he catches up with you, turn to him, put one hand out, telling him to "give" you the toy.

As he does so, reward him with a treat from the other hand.

Step 3: UPPING THE ANTE

Practice this often, gradually increasing the distance you throw the toy.

If your dog starts getting bored with the game stop straightaway, as you need to keep him motivated.

Once you've mastered this you can start to introduce new items; e.g. a shoe, a towel or a lead

Repeat the game, but say, "Fetch the shoe/towel/lead!" as you throw it

Over time, your dog should be able to retrieve these by name, and you will both have fun in the process!

 

You could also try other games - such as tug of war or hide and seek - in the garden.

 

Using food for training & stimulation

Food is an important part of your dog's daily routine if used inventively can keep him amused for ages.

Rather than just feeding your dog from his bowl you could hide his food in small portions around the house, allowing him to hunt for it by sniffing it out.

Kongs (hollow toys) are great for encouraging your dog to hunt for treats.

Place some food or treats inside the kong then leave it for your dog to work out.

For added mental stimulation you could hide the toy somewhere in the house for your dog to find.

Activity balls work on much the same basis, but with small, dry treats or food. Place a handful of treats inside so that they fall out as it rolls along the floor.

These are also useful for amusing your dog while you are out.

Whether you are temporarily restricted in the areas where you can walk your dog or not, it's a good idea to continue these games and activities as a way of spending time with him, showing him that you are happy to give him lots of attention.

Hierarchy

Finally & most importantly, for a contented dog (& owner) you must establish its' place in a hierarchical structure.

It is so simple!

You must be the dominant one, thus giving your dog enjoy the peace of mind that comes with the submissive role in the pack. The dominant one takes charge of the smooth operation of the group, settling the place of each member, their comings and goings & all the rituals of daily life. Therefore, it is not about of shouting/hitting, but of exercising an everyday authority which reassures your dog ensuring a settled household.

You must always eat first (in the wild the dominant one in any pack eats first). Share nothing with it at table, what you see as an act of friendliness could be seen as a sign of submissiveness (confusing the order of things).

Do not allow your dog to choose a strategic sleeping place! Bedrooms, the entrance hall or corridors are thus unsuitable places to put your new little friends basket.

By ignoring these 2 important points, you are encouraging hierarchically aggressive behaviour.

While your dog is still a puppy, if it does something it shouldn't, respond as its mother would: lift it up firmly by the scruff of its neck & hold it there until it calms down. When it does, put it down and stroke its shoulder (pacification signal). This sequence, far more than anything else, will teach it that you consider yourself to be the dominant animal in the relationship.