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Train Your Pet: Basic Dog Training Principles
Here are some basic principles that all dog owners need to learn and follow:
1. Be consistent. A behavior is either acceptable or it is not. It may not be acceptable on other Tuesdays when you are in the mood. For example, it may not be OK to allow your dog to jump all over you on the weekend when you are in casual clothes, but not during the week when you are dressed for work. That’s an obvious one, although you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who do exactly that.
Here is one that is less obvious. It may be OK for your dog to chew cloth toys but not chew “inappropriate” cloth items. In other words, if you give your dog an old sock and say, “Here, chew this,” don’t be surprised when he eats your shirt. Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and harder for families. The more people that interact with the dog, the greater the chance of inconsistency. I strongly recommend that families hold a few meetings to discuss and agree on what will be universally unacceptable behavior on the part of the dog.
Everyone needs to clearly understand what the rules will be for a training program to be more successful. That being said, we live in the real world and I recognize how difficult consistency on the part of a six-year-old is likely to be. Parents of younger children will need to practice a good amount of prevention and understand that the dog training process can be a little more difficult and prolonged.
2. Be consistent. Yes, I know I already said this, but consistency also extends to the commandment of obedience. If you want your dog to learn to listen to obedience commands the first time they are given, you need to be prepared to properly teach your dog to obey them the first time. This is most effectively accomplished if the first obedience at the foundation level you teach at home is done on a leash.
I have sometimes run into problems when discussing how important it is for dogs to obey commands consistently. In my opinion, this is one area where attitudes have gone downhill in the last 30 years. Decades ago the idea that a dog needed to obey commands the first time they were given would not have been commented on. Today, many owners are uncomfortable with the idea that their dogs should be trained to respond so predictably.
I had object owners, based on the idea that they did not want their dogs “to become robots.” It is important for these owners to understand that, first of all, if training is mainly done with compassion and reward this will not happen; and second of all, you might not care if your dog listens to the first command until the first time he runs out into the street. And then, as the car slams into him, you pray he obeys the first command, because you may never get a second.
Specifics on how to teach obedience at the foundation level can be found in Chapter 7 of this book. However, the principle of consistency really needs to be understood here.
3. Understand why the behavior takes place and deal with the problem by dealing with the cause. When owners learn to do this, they won’t just react to what are often symptoms of an underlying problem.
4. Learn basic training techniques and follow rules one and two. All owners need to understand the principles of prevention, maintenance, redirection, reward and correction. And they need to use them constantly. Now that you have an understanding of some of the challenges, let’s discuss a little about behavior, so that everyone can be clear about what terms like “prevention,” “maintenance,” “redirection” and “reward” really mean. Once you understand how a dog learns, we can get on with the business of training.
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