Accentuate the Positive
Training a dog is really pretty simple, once you grasp the basic concepts and are consistent in applying them. What scientists, trainers and teachers have discovered is that all creatures – including humans, dolphins or dogs – learn from positive reinforcement, not from punishment or negative feedback.
Be Calm, Cheerful and Consistent
Similar to weight loss, which boils down to consuming fewer calories while burning more of them, teaching manners to your dog takes commitment and consistency on your part.
Like exercise, focus on keeping the training sessions fun and not too long – and you’ll both keep coming back for more.
The fundamental key to success
Reward the behavior you want, ignore behavior you don’t want.
This wisdom is true for dog training, but probably for other things in life, too! There are three types of rewards you can use: special food treats, a favorite toy, and verbal/ physical praise.
Begin teaching a new behavior with small delicious treats as a reward (Liv-a-Little freeze dried protein nuggets are perfect for this), but prepare to phase them out.
Using a favorite toy is a great reward, too. Reward the best responses to the command by offering your dog the toy and a few minutes of play with it.
And don’t be a tightwad with praise! You won’t “spoil” your dog by lavishing him with enthusiastic words and affection. Be an unselfconscious cheerleader!
The results will require time and effort to build – and ongoing practice to maintain. Even if your dog grasps the concept quickly and gives you the behavior you hoped for, it will sink in as a learned response only with repetition many times, in many different situations. But try to limit teaching sessions to not more than 10 minutes at a time, so neither of you “burns out.”
Reward the Process, Not Just the End Result
Praise your dog for trying, not just for succeeding in a “perfect” rendition of the behavior.
Keep in mind that even if you make it as fun for your dog as you can – by having an upbeat attitude and tone of voice – learning is not easy for many dogs, and for some of them it can be stressful, too. And it’s difficult for the person, too, properly communicating what you want from the dog and then rewarding it appropriately.
As the ultimate reward for both of you after a training session, consider stretching out together and having a ”cat nap!”
Tracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.
Tracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.
Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.