By Ketan Panchal

Training is an important part of any dog’s life for several reasons. It provides mental stimulation, enabling your dog to stay engaged and happy. If combined with morning exercise, your dog will be mentally and physically tired at the end and far more likely to sleep during the day. 

I support reward-based training methods, whereby the dog is set up to succeed and then rewarded for performing the ‘good’ behaviour (positive reinforcement).

Reward-based training is enjoyable for the dog and positively enhances the relationship between the dog and the handler. This approach revolves around positive reinforcement – i.e. rewarding behaviour that we like. Rewards may be in the form of a tasty food treat or verbal praise such as “good dog!” in a pleasant tone of voice when the dog performs the ‘good’ behaviour.

Reward-based training also involves generally ignoring any ‘unwanted’ behaviours. In this way, the dog is not rewarded for any unwanted behaviour. If dogs are not rewarded (i.e. receives no attention or treats) for a certain behaviour, then they tend to stop doing it. For example, if a dog is jumping up to greet people, they should be ignored if they jump up and only receive attention (including eye contact) when they have four paws on the ground. Only when they are standing or sitting, should they be rewarded with attention and treats. This will encourage a positive interaction between the dog and guests.

Sometimes if owners react to ‘unwanted’ behaviour by yelling or getting angry, they may inadvertently reinforce the behaviour – dogs perceive this as attention and the ‘unwanted’ behaviour is simply reinforced. For some dogs, any form of attention/reaction from the owner is better than no reaction at all. For example, if an owner shouts at a dog who is barking excessively, the dog may interpret this as getting attention and thus, the barking continues whereas it is more effective to try to ignore this behaviour.

Physical punishment must not be used in training programs. Punishing a dog for ‘unwanted’ behaviour can exacerbate the problem.

I highly recommend booking your puppy into pet social events to help your puppy socialise with other dogs. Your puppy can then use this practice and learning when they meet other dogs at the park or on walks as they grow into adult dogs. Puppies have a ‘critical socialisation period’ from about 3-17 weeks of age. This is the time when they need to socialise with other dogs in order to learn social cues and how to communicate well with other dogs.

For dogs that are no longer in the puppy stage, training classes are offered in most areas. I recommend classes that use reward-based training that revolves around positive reinforcement as the basis of training.

DO’S and DON’TS of Dog Training

DO’S

  • Be nice to your dog every time he comes to you (even if he’s just coming back from an unexpected romp around the neighbourhood).
  • Get into the habit of giving a command only once. If your dog doesn’t respond to a command you have taught him, reinforce the command.
  • Use your dog’s name to get his attention, and then tell him what you want him to do.
  • Use a normal tone of voice when you give a command. Your dog’s hearing is quite acute.
  • Be consistent in your actions and expectations.
  • Keep your dog mentally stimulated by training him.
  • Understand that your dog is a social animal. Train him so he can be a part of the family.
  • Socialize your dog with people and other dogs.
  • Make learning fun for your dog.
  • Consistently reward by praising the correct behaviours.
  • Spend plenty of time with your dog and give him lots of exercise.
  • Keep trying and your dog will reward you by getting the message.

DON’TS

  • Don’tdo anything your dog perceives as unpleasant when he comes to you.
  • Don’tnag your dog by repeating commands — nagging teaches him to ignore you.
  • Don’tuse your dog’s name and then expect him to read your mind as to what you want.
  • Don’texpect your dog to know what the word “no” means.
  • Don’tyell at your dog. Raising your voice will not improve their understanding.
  • Don’tconfuse your dog with unrealistic expectations. Keep it simple and achievable.
  • Don’ttry to suppress behaviours that need an outlet.
  • Don’tlet your dog stagnate.
  • Don’tlock up your dog or put him out as a form of punishment.
  • Don’tisolate your dog as socialising as it is essential to his well-being.
  • Don’texpect your dog to obey a command you haven’t taught him.
  • Don’tget too serious in your training.
  • Don’treward undesired behaviours.
  • Don’tgive up when the going gets tough; keep trying.
  • Don’t blame the dog; you are his teacher

In conclusion, start small and gradually build up. Sticking to basics can go a long way and starting from these pointers can help more than one realises. Remember to stay resilient if it does not immediately work. The key to training your dog is patience!

(Certified professional dog trainer & dog behaviourist)

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