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Written by Robert Self
When heeling properly, the dog is initially taught to walk with its shoulder opposite the trainer’s left leg. Later the dog will be trained to sit when the trainer halts, but for now it is only learning the heel position.
When teaching the dog to walk with the handler it is very critical that the dog starts on the trainer’s initial motion. The dog must be taught to do this or it will be behind the trainer’s leg on the very first step! Furthermore it will throw all subsequent motions out of position. To teach the initial movement the trainer (1) places their left hand at the proper leash position, (2) commands “Heel,” and (3) starts the motion of the left leg with (4) the left hand shooting straight forward so there is an automatic leash correction. With an energetic voice the handler immediately praises “ Atta Dog", "That’s it!” Repeated presentations of the above teaches the dog to move forward instantly on the command, and to key on the motion of the trainer’s leg.
Remember from previous discussions that to be effective, only small errors can be corrected. Therefore the trainer must pay close attention to the dog and make leash corrections as quickly as a mistake is observed. The hand holding the lead should move only 6-8 inches in the direction of the correction. This is the largest correction that really should be attempted. Keep in mind that the average human reaction time is about three quarters of a second. No one can make a correction instantly so trainers should learn to anticipate errors. One way to prepare yourself to anticipate mistakes is by knowing that dogs who make mistakes in training will almost certainly repeat the mistakes when the same opportunity presents itself again. Therefore by creating similar training situations a trainer can be prepared for the dog's error.
Often times when training a handler will miss the opportunity to make an appropriate leash correction. Experienced trainers know it's better to accept the missed opportunity but novice handlers will often try to "catch up" by making a bigger correction. This is ineffective training which could possibly cause an injury to the dog. If the dog gets a foot or more out of position, you're no longer making heeling corrections but controlled walking corrections. You shouldn't be moving the dog's weight by trying to jerk it into position. You should be making controlled tweaks of the leash that the dog feels but doesn't fear. The leash corrections allow the dog to learn where it should be walking in relation to its handler.
The dog has learned to pay attention on the sit and accept praise and the sit stay exercises. It is now important that the dog learn to pay attention while heeling, for an inattentive dog cannot heel well.
One of the best ways to teach attention while heeling is to do right turns every time the dog demonstrates an inattentive behavior. While heeling the trainer closely observes the dog, and when the dog looks away he immediately does a right turn, gives a quick leash correction, and praises lavishly. The trainer should be making the right turn an enjoyable game rather than a brusque correction.
Should the dog lag slightly behind the handler’s leg, a forward correction is applied, which causes the dog to move forward. Often times it is very helpful for the trainer to briefly accelerate their forward speed simultaneously at the time of the correction. This stimulates the dog to speed up into position and reduces any harsh corrections that need to be made. Again... Remember... You cannot effectively correct a large mistake! If the dog has fallen into a lag that is a foot or more behind the trainer, it would be considered a controlled walking error and corrected accordingly by turning round, walking backward, and popping on the leash until the dog is in the controlled walking position.
In teaching dogs to heel it is common for some dogs to go wide, increasing the space between dog and trainer. This is corrected by a leash correction toward the trainer as they simultaneously step directly away from the dog. NEVER MOVE TOWARD an error as this compensates for the dog’s mistake. Instead move opposite of the mistake so the error is intensified to the extent that the dog discovers it has occurred. This improves the dog's learning and helps it to avoid repetition of the same mistake.
As some dogs show a tendency to heel wide others will lean against the trainer's leg when walking. In this situation no corrections are applied at this stage of training. It is a good fault because the dog is learning it should be walking at the trainer’s left leg. When crowding occurs the trainer should merely lift his left leg a little higher than normal while walking. This will cause a noticeable interference between handler and dog, causing the dog eventually to move over, allowing freedom of motion between the team.
Written by Bob Self
Art & Science
At times you hear some dog trainers snub those who train with physical leash corrections. They will describe these traditional techniques as cruel, inhumane ways to treat an animal. They will retort that they are an old school methodology which has long since been replaced by better techniques. I don't personally feel that techniques are cruel or ineffective just because they've been around for years. Dog training to date has been more of an art form than a science. While we may use scientific procedures in our training, it would be near impossible to control for all of the possible variables that can occur in the real world. What should be most important to trainers is to recognize that they are on a path toward developing their own ideology of dog training. A person's belief system, physical attributes, and individual goals are what makes training artists and not two training artists are ever the same. What's more... no two training artists are ever wrong... for them! Sometimes we get so entrenched in our own beliefs that we find it difficult to observe this fact.
Verbal & Nonverbal (or Reading & Watching)
In discussing traditional leash corrections the term "jerk" is often used. There is no question, especially in today's politically correct world, that language from the past often takes on meanings in the contemporary. All in all, the use of words to describe nonverbal actions is a poor exercise. Anyone who's ever tried to read the obedience regulations can attest to that! Ya gotta see it to understand it... and... then just maybe believe in it.
Some of you may know that I refurbished my father's home after he passed. So many people kept asking me how I knew what to do that I began to think everyone thought I must be inept. Actually dad was quite a carpenter and he not only taught me how to build, but how to figure out the answers I didn't know. As I proceeded through the project I began to realize that there was quite a bit I still needed to learn. Often times I found myself looking up YouTube videos to give me guidance. Even though it wasn't always the fastest method of discovery it seemed to offer the most efficient advice. Of course the most labor-saving method doesn't always provide the best advice, but that's really no different than the written word. Quality's a judgment made from individual opinion. We're talking about the physical actions of communication.
Yes, seeing it helps... Life seems to have gotten a lot more visual the past few years. At least as we communicate. We like pictures but seem to love video. Guess that's why YouTube's so popular. Heck, all the cool media nowadays incorporates video. It's hard now to imaging life without it. And... were not stopping there! The next big thing on the horizon is Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. It's no longer good enough to see things in real life. We need to supplement them!
Most people I’ve spoken with consider Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as the same thing, but it's not that easy. Virtual Reality takes place in an thoroughly artificial (or simulated) world. Augmented Reality is a blend of the real and the virtual. As we speak now, doctors, pilots, and dozens of higher profile professions are using it to foster their skills. But the technology is improving at a rapid pace and it won't be long before we'll be participating in AR Dog Training instruction, and some of us won't even need the dog.
Think I'm kidding? The Muncie Animal Care Shelter in Indiana became involved with the hype of the Pokemon Go app. They allowed Pokemon Go players to walk dogs while they played the game. At the end of the campaign they had adopted six dogs.
This following examples aren't about dog training but they can show you what's on the horizon for future dog trainers. The first video clip is a more practical application in using VR to show how furniture will look in your house before you buy it. The second one is just a fun clip about animals in the mall.
Ikea VR App
A Zoo in the Mall
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There are four factors that affect learning with which all trainers should be familiar. They are attention, feedback, transfer, and practice.
Attention was discussed as one of the goals of training. In training the animal, attention must be focused on the subject to be learned. It is very important for a trainer to be able to get the animal under emotional control as the first step in training.
A dog that is emotionally unsettled cannot concentrate on the action the trainer is trying to convey. A dog that is fearful, aggressive, overly exuberant, or otherwise emotionally stimulated must first be calmed in a static position, such as sitting at heel. If it is not possible to put the dog into a composed mental state, it does little good to attempt to teach the dog an action that requires control while it is moving.
Feedback tells us what we are doing. For a student it can be the teacher- corrected assignment that is returned to him. The dog trainer must have a mental picture of exactly what it is he wants the dog to do. The instant the dog fails to respond properly the trainer makes a correction. Beginning trainers usually have to see a gross error before correcting, but with more experience they develop a sensitivity, which allows them to anticipate a dog’s error. The great trainer has almost a sixth sense that permits him to correct the dog before the error is physically apparent.
Transfer occurs when the learning of one skill aids or hinders the learning of another. For instance, a case of positive transfer comes when a background in arithmetic is used by the student in algebra. A youngster learning golf and tennis at the same time is probably going to have difficulty since the physical actions are not compatible. A student learning algebra and golf would have no transfer problems, as there is no connection between the two activities.
The dog trainer must realize that many training activities depend on positive transfer. The dog must have a sound background before it is able to learn an action that depends on another skill. It would be impossible to teach a formal Novice Recall before the dog knows how to sit and stay. The easiest stay position to teach the dog is the sit, as corrections can be readily made.
Because of its background a dog that has learned to sit and stay reliably seldom has problems with staying in a down or standing position. Another example of proper transfer comes when a dog must learn to accept praise before praise can be used as a reward. Without this background a praising tone of voice triggers uncontrollable behavior, and it is obvious that this tone cannot be used to show the dog that the previous act was acceptable.
A case of neutral transfer occurs when teaching a dog to stand-stay and stick jumping at the same time. ere is no conflict in teaching a dog to stick jump either before or aer it learns to stand and stay.
Practice is necessary to bind responses together. To be effective, practice sessions should be short, as it does more harm than good to practice to the point of mental or physical fatigue.
As a dog learns primarily through repetition, proper practice is exceedingly important to the trainer’s success or failure. In training there is no substitute for consistent practice.
The trainer often gets in trouble during practice sessions if he does not vary his training. He must not repeat the same pattern many times in a row, or he will teach the dog by repetition to anticipate commands.
For example, a trainer in teaching the recall, calls the dog every time shortly after he walks away and then turns toward it. The dog will associate the trainer’s turns with the come command and will soon anticipate the command. Wise trainers do not allow any patterns to form. They vary the time they face the dog before calling, or they return to the dog before calling, or optionally still will call the dog before turning. This not only prevents anticipation but aids in producing a dog that is “command” trained.
Calendar and Clock
Practice is so important to training a dog that the trainer is advised to keep a training log. This if often called “training by the calendar and clock” as the trainer keeps the date and exact length of time the dog was trained.
The calendar and clock method keeps the trainer honest with himself. Most amateur trainers train as a hobby and have demanding professional and personal schedules. It is very easy at the end of a month to feel that the dog should be further along in its training. A check with the calendar will show that the dog may have received no training on several days, and shortened training sessions on others.
It only takes a few seconds to maintain a log of your training but it is so easy to neglect. There is no substitute for repetition, and keeping a simple training log will make a more understanding, fair, and knowledgeable trainer.
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Let's use the Recall exercise to illustrate this “breakdown” of exercises. To perform a Recall the dog must first be taught to sit and stay as until it hears the come command, then it must respond briskly and promptly sit in front of the trainer. The dog remains in this position until it is commanded or signaled to return to heel position, which it should smartly perform, ending in a straight sit at the trainer’s side.
In order to do a good recall, the dog must first learn to perform each part well. The individual movements are then combined and the total exercise results. Should a dog not preform each of these units satisfactorily, they then must be further broken down into yet smaller increments. is helps the trainer to more efficiently modify the behavior that is expected by the dog.
Many trainers get into difficulty once the parts have been taught and assembled. They practice the exercise only in a set order. If this is done, the dog will associate an action with the previous one and will begin to anticipate. For instance, the trainer who always calls the dog afer turning teaches the dog to come on the turning action instead of waiting for the command.
As exercises are taught in parts, so must they be remedied in parts if problems occur. Should a trainer attempt to correct a fault in a part of the exercise while the dog is performing the entire exercise, the dog is likely to become confused and associate the modification with the a part of the exercise it is performing correctly. This ofen causes a greater problem than the original one.
Again, using the Recall exercise as an example, suppose the dog anticipates and comes before the trainer gives the command. If the dog is on its way toward the trainer and receives a reprimand for breaking the stay, it will more than likely associate the penalty with coming to the trainer rather than breaking the stay command. Should this occur, the dog will not come willingly and quickly, but will slow down as it approaches the trainers because it expects to be corrected.
Good trainers practice the parts of an exercise more than they do the complete formal exercise. The problem in this example is the stay so a good strategy is to return to the dog after initially leaving it, and not call the dog every time it has been left. Good trainers mix it up! They do not require the dog to sit in front during every recall, but instead work on fronts separately. They don't do finishes every time, they don't call the dog every time, the mix it up.
Static and Dynamic Exercises
Everything is dog is trained to do can be classified in one of three areas. Dynamic Exercises (actions or exercises in which the dog must act), Static Exercises (those in which the dog remains stationary), and Combined Exercises (a combination of static and dynamic exercises). As these are basically two opposite actions, the techniques used to train the acts must also differ.
The obedience “stay” exercises are static. The dog is required to remain in one position, not moving for a period of time. This type of exercises is generally easy to teach, as it is taught by compulsion. The dog is compelled to stay by one means or another. He learns that his movement is followed by unpleasantness, and so it is to his advantage to remain stationary.
Dynamic exercises are those in which the dog is required to move under control. If the trainer cannot control the dog in a static situation, there is little hope of teaching a dynamic exercise. It is in these exercises that the dog must be under the trainer’s complete control while still giving the impression that it enjoys the experience.
A combination of static and dynamic can also be easily illustrated by the Novice Recall exercise. Here the dog is required to sit and stay (static) as the trainer walks about 30 feet, turns and hesitates. The trainer then calls the dog, whereupon it must come briskly and happily (dynamic) to the trainer, sitting promptly in front of him.
In a nutshell good trainers know that training is accentuating the dog’s wanted actions and eliminating those that are unwanted. The dog will never understand the moral virtues of right and wrong, but it will perform acts that bring it pleasure and avoid those that cause discontent. e trainer therefore sets the standards for the dog.
Trainers not only decide what acts are to be trained, but equally important, the manner in which the behavior is considered acceptable. It is not enough for an obedience competition dog merely to perform an exercise. It must be done with willingness, joy, and intensity. Hence, the trainer’s standards form a triad: attention, animation and desire, and response on the part of the dog. These three give it the attributes necessary for a good ring performance.
Most errors associated with a dog’s performance can be traced to lack of attention. Sniffing, bumping, forging, going wide, failure to come or stay all can be caused by a lack of attention.
No animal can learn if it is not attentive. In the case of many obedience exercises the dog's attention must be focused on the action to be learned. The trained dog must stay with the trainer while heeling. If its attention is not on the trainer, heeling is an impossible act. Anything the trainer requires the dog to do first requires attention.
Attention is so important to a well-trained dog it is one of the first things the dog is introduced to when formal training begins. It is emphasized in every training session and every exercise throughout the dog’s career.
Animation and Desire
Most dogs are happy animals by nature. A dog running free in a field of grass gives an animated, happy picture. Sadly, and all too often the repetition and control required by obedience training takes much of the animation away from a dog. Maintaining a dog's happy attitude while completing the repetitions needed to master obedience exercises is one of the most difficult challenges trainers face. It is hard enough for a trainer to foster their own desire in the face of such repetition, not to mention the dog's animation too.
It is natural that the animation, which the dog has while running freely, is not present while it is working. As such the trainer must emphasize that the performance of obedience is not boring and repulsive. The dog must be trained to be happy while working. Some breeds inherently give a more animated appearance than others, but all can be improved through proper motivation in training.
The trainer cannot expect the dog to work with joy and happiness unless he approaches training in a good mood. The trainer's moods in training are reflected in the dog’s attitudes toward the work. It is most important that the trainer reflects enjoyment of training and that he creates a happy atmosphere for the dog’s learning processes.
Balanced dog training recommends no verbal reprimands on exercises when the dog is moving. Even leash corrections are always accompanied by praise. Prolonged verbal admonishments nag and depress a dog even more than humans because dogs don't have the cognitive ability to understand the differing semantics of words. Dog's do however have a keen sense of interpreting vocal tones. As such, physical adjustments with praise convey to the dog that the trainer is still a friend and the penalty is not to be feared.
Response is the third element of the triad and trainers must strive to develop the dog's prompt response to their commands. It must preform the desired action expeditiously and without delay. All three, attention, animation, and response, depend upon each other and are required to have a well-balanced dog.
A dog cannot be responsive and inattentive at the same time. It is possible for a dog to be attentive and responsive through fear; but by these standards it is not well trained, for training without animation creates disgust, not admiration.
A dog can be responsive but it must also show considerable intensity and joy in its work. This is the dog that creates a thrilling picture of obedience training as this dog gives the impression that it's work and the trainer are the two most important facets of it’s being.
While this work is not a dissertation on the specifics of conditioning it is interesting and important to understand how Pavlov’s famous experiment revealed that dogs could be conditioned to give an unconditioned response. In other words, a previously neutral stimulus that caused no particular reaction could be conditioned to cause a very specific response. The following video depicts how this discovery was made.
Pavlov’s Famous Experiment
In day-to-day life a dog's learning goes beyond the unconditioned response. Left to their own devices dogs normally do those things that are to their advantage and avoid those that are to their detriment. In other words, a dog will repeat acts that are gratifying and repress those that cause dissatisfaction. These operant behavior patterns depend upon the dog learning the consequences of its acts. Dog training is no different, the dog must learn that certain acts always bring him pleasure and are to its advantage. The dog will repeat these.
As the likelihood that pleasurable behaviors will be repeated so is it that non-pleasurable behaviors will not. This is where many contemporary training methods fall short in their approach. Encouraging behavior only with food, praise, or sound is missing half of the equation. Training a dog desirable behaviors so it receives a pleasant reward is wonderful concept, but this does little if nothing to dissuade the dogs from engaging in undesirable behaviors.
Physical corrections are un-pleasurable, but this is not to say that they must be painful or cruel. Physical correction is simply not satisfying to the dog and therefore undesired behaviors are discouraged from recurring.
Many behaviorists classify the pleasant as reward and the unpleasant as punishment. Similarly trainer’s actions that cause pleasant reactions are called positive motivations and those that cause punishment are classified negative motivations. Hence, leash corrections are considered negative and giving praise or food would be considered positive.
Training is based on a balanced approach between the positive and negative. There are dogs that are highly motivated by a handler’s praise, while others (even from the same litter) seem to have little need of approval. Food can motivate one dog to a great extent while another will ignore it. Some dogs will respond to much less physical correction than others. Balanced training does not indicate equal parts of positive and negative reinforcement. Rather it is an approach that suggests trainers assert humane, measured actions in order to achieve desired repeated behaviors from the dog.
“Good” temperament is a misnomer. Dogs vary a great deal in their temperaments and hence in their training aptitude. A good training aptitude changes with the task the dog is being trained to do. A guide dog for the blind needs different characteristics from a dog for the deaf. Similarly, sentry dogs in the army require traits that would be undesirable for a messenger dogs. What is “good temperament” for one type of training is often detrimental to another.
An excellent obedience dog is a dog that is willing to please, will accept corrections well, is quick in its actions, agile, has a medium to low threshold of pain, is environmentally sound, has a great need for acceptance, is a natural retriever, has a high chase instinct, is assertive with good endurance, and is structurally sound. The dog should have a good rapport with all people and exceedingly so with its trainer. A dog possessing many of these characteristics will be easier to train and very proficient in performing obedience exercises. Given this dog, many methods of training will produce a well-trained product, one that can be highly competitive for all honors associated with obedience training. Like good students this type of dog seems to learn in spite of its teacher or the methods and techniques used in teaching. Most trainers rarely get to posses a dog with all of these traits. The majority of dogs that are trained will have several good traits, but flaws of character in others. These are the dogs most trainers acquire.
In most cases the training procedures given in this series will produce top working, competitive obedience dogs. More importantly the techniques will bring out the best in a dog that is not a natural prospect. None of the techniques, if properly applied, are detrimental to a dog of any temperament.
Excellent obedience dogs are born with a natural aptitude and are often outstanding in spite of their training. Their strong character allows these dogs to accept training and corrections that would ruin the average dog. Top dogs are not trained with cruelty, but they do tend to be more forgiving of training errors than the average dog.
No two dogs learn the same way nor at the same rate, even if they are of identical breeding. Each is an individual and should not be expected to react the same as another. This simple concept is commonly misunderstood by rookie trainers and often by advanced handlers alike. Individuals inspired by the performance of one individual dog often find themselves trying to hedge their bets by seeking an identical breed or even a litter of the same breeding. Such attempts are often met with disappointed handlers, and perhaps more so because expectations are driven by the initial object of attraction.
Because of individual differences the training program must be tailored to suit each dog. Even if one were to acquire cloned genetic duplicate dogs trained by cloned genetic duplicate humans, it would be impossible to reconstruct all of the environmental conditions in rearing, social exposure, and training. Simply said, one handling team would end up outperforming the other.
Good training techniques will work for most dogs, but even these will be altered in many ways by each trainer. It is impossible to set a training program on particular corrections, number of training sessions, or length of time. What works for one dog-trainer team could be a disaster for another. Training is not a scientific mechanical process but more of an art.
Like most living organisms dogs are continually changing beings. However once exposed to a new training experiences, it can become permanently changed. If a dog has learned an unwanted action this unwanted response becomes a part of the dog’s behavior pattern. To eliminate a problem the trainer may have to first un-train or at least control the unwanted behavior before the dog can successfully learn the desired behavior.
Should difficulties arise when training a specific act, the trainer is urged to stop training and end the session with an exercise the dog does well. This procedure ends the session on a note of success with the dog displaying a good attitude and the trainer in control of their emotions. The trainer then has time to analyze the problem and to decide on a course of action to follow during the next training period. If the trainer attacks a problem without a thought out plan, they are likely to cause more problems than they will solve.
The trainer’s attitude is the one most important factors that affects the person-dog relationship. A trainer must be mentally prepared, approaching training sessions with a positive attitude, under emotional control. Often dogs do not “obey commands,” but it isn't out of spite. Dogs are not devious or deceitful and do not fail to perform in order to “get even.” They don't obey because they haven't been adequately reinforced. In human terms we would say they are confused or misunderstand.
Sometimes in training it is easy to become frustrated and angry that things are not going the way one expects. Any time a trainer gets angry during training they cannot think rationally. This quickly becomes a situation where one “dumb animal” is attempting to teach another. Anger always produces unproductive results for both dog and trainer.
Dog training is a physical activity, and a person with good physical dexterity has advantages over those who don't. However, dog training is as much a mental and emotional activity as it is physical. People with all abilities can excel as dog trainers. The natural athlete, the handicapped, the young, the old, man or woman can have a well-trained dog if they desire. The primary aid to all trainers is to take the time to develop a mental picture of what is expected out of the dog as well as themselves. Ask yourself and visualize the actions you must preform to get the dog to react as desired. Some trainers seem to have this ability intuitively. Others need to concentrate until it becomes natural. Both have the ability to do if they put forth the effort.
To illustrate the mental picture assume you are training a dog to sit and stay. You must know (carry a mental picture) of the dog performing the action properly to your standards. You must also know what mistakes are possible and visualize a plan of action to correct them. Possible errors could include a foot movement, learning, hunching down, inching forward, whining, or standing completely. By thinking this out in advance and knowing the corrective action to take, a trainer can anticipate the error, improve their timing to correct it earlier, and becomes more proficient. The major difference between an experienced and novice trainer is that the experienced person knows many of the mistakes a dog will make, expects them to occur, and is prepared to correct them.
The first step in correcting any problem is to visually define it. This makes the trainer more able to continually and consistently evaluate their dog’s performance according to their standards. Is the dog's performance right or wrong? If incorrect, what increment of the exercise is causing the problem? An entire exercise cannot be corrected so the trainer must single out that part which is causing the trouble. This allows the trainer to reinforce the desired behavior to the dog more effectively, more fairly, and more efficiently. When the dog is performing the part reliably, the entire exercise is assembled again for further evaluation.
To illustrate assume a dog does not come briskly when called on the Recall exercise. One course of action would be to place the dog on leash and work on the brisk response. There would be no formal stay, no front, or no finish until the dog comes as desired. There is little point in taking a chance that the come corrections might transfer improperly causing problems with staying, fronting or finishing.
Training in its simplest context is to get the dog to react reliably to a verbal command or physical signal. This is accomplished in two general areas. In one area the dog is forced to remain in place. These exercises are known as static exercises and are taught largely by compulsion. The other, and often more difficult area is the dynamic or moving exercises. In these exercises the dog must be motivated to do the trainer’s bidding, such as coming when called or heeling off leash.
Most training consists of a primary inducement that forces the dog to do something and this is accompanied by the secondary command. All force used in teaching a dynamic exercise is accompanied by praise. To illustrate this let us teach the dog to sit. From a standing position, the trainer forces the dog into a sitting position, and accompanies this action with the verbal command “sit” followed by praise, “good boy”. In sequence the dog must sit because of the force: simultaneously, the dog hears the command. This is immediately followed by the release of pressure and the praise (which are both pleasurable experiences). It isn’t long until the dog realizes the consequence of its action. As it hears “sit”, the trainer has to apply less and less force until finally the dog sits on the sound alone.
This is a danger point for many trainers because they come to believe that once a dog performs an act on command, it “knows” the action and should do it from them on. This is not true. The dog never “knows” in the same sense that a human does. Trainers are developing in the dog conditioned responses. The first response merely shows progress is being made. The dog has done the trainer's bidding one time after a certain sequence and in one environment. But, it is a long way from being reliably trained. It could take several hundred (or even several thousand) repetitions before the act becomes so habitual that the dog is reliable under any and all circumstances.
We often explain dog training in terms (often abstract) that we feel will convey meaning to other humans. However this can be dangerous, especially if taken literally. Dogs do not think in abstract terms. If a human hears 2, 4, 6, he mentally thinks 8, 10, etc. The dog does not have this ability. The dog must be taught every single act as a small, separate and distinct entity. The trainer can later assemble these parts into a total exercise, but even the assembly process must be taught over a period of time and in the proper sequence.
The way a dog learns may be illustrated by the following example. The dog is taught to heel on our left side: and after many sessions, the dog will associate the sound “heel” with this position while walking. Now the trainer is going to have the dog go from a sitting position from in front when commanded. Yet it will not. The dog cannot transpose meanings; it must be taught to make all the movements needed to go from the front position to the heel position. Each and every step must be taught in small increments.
You cannot talk a dog into performing any act: your voice merely conveys pleasure, displeasure, or sometimes neutrality. As dogs cannot think in abstract terms, they are not trained by explaining to them vocally. As a matter of fact, talking can produce a result that is directly opposite of the trainer’s wishes. To illustrate this point assume that a very shy dog is brought into strange surroundings. The trainer then wishes the dog to sit beside him. The dog hides behind the misguided trainer who immediately notices the shyness and tries to verbally reassure the dog that everything is okay and nothing will harm it. No one would criticize the trainer's intent, but the technique is wrong. The dog accepts the pleasant, consoling voice as a reward for its hiding behavior. As such the behavior becomes reinforced instead of eliminated.
Dogs don’t communicate in abstract words, and yet trainers must establish voice control. The dog can learn to associate the command word with the desired action or response. One of the most important commands it can learn is “No,” which means stop. That’s all the dog can understand. "No" does not mean that dog is bad or that it should stop what is unwanted and do what the trainer wants. It only means Stop. Initially the command “No” is only used on static exercises until its meaning to the dog is absolute.
A dog cannot be half-trained. Many of the instructions may seem unimportant or unnecessary for what various individuals want their dogs to do. However, small deviations in initial training will come back to haunt the trainer later. Everything a dog is taught is built on prior training, and all are links to a solid foundation that will support future training the dog will receive.
The series begins with general skills that anyone attempting to train a dog should understand. The information includes some goals, philosophies, theories, pitfalls, beliefs and opinions. It is not intended to be a thesis on the psychology of animal behavior, but a practical foundation on which to build a dog training routine that can efficiently produce a willing, happy, and well-trained dog.
The stated purpose of this series is to aid the reader in developing a training method that will be effective for both trainer and dog. Each dog trainer is unique. We are all individuals with varying abilities and desires. Adding to this mix is a dog, also with traits that vary from all other canines. Although many individuals attempt to promote single methodologies of dog training, certainly no one way will be successful for every dog and handler.
In many works on obedience training lip service is given to the individual differences among dogs. Unfortunately this is soon discarded and "the method" becomes the central theme. Worse than this, many trainers write in generalities, giving an impression that any failures of their system are due to incompetent trainers who did not apply "the method" correctly.
At times I find some systems of dog training are based on innate beliefs of the so-called experts. This often seems to occur most often with trainers promoting purely positive methods. They often claim that physical corrections on the dog are unfair and inhumane punishment. Riding the tied of political correctness, and unwilling to give in to their convictions, these masters invent lengthy and increasingly complex solutions of training. When the training falters, again it's the inept trainers fault for not precisely following their methodology.
Bottom line... NO one method works for every person and every dog. Good trainers maintain a continuously evolving indoctrination. Growing up in a dog-training household, I overheard untold "I have a training problem" conversations between my father and other knowledgeable and highly skilled trainers. These conversations often dealt with dogs that had been in training and competition a long time. Dogs who certainly could be considered proficiently well trained. At some point the dog developed a problem the owner just couldn't solve. Often groping for answers, these individuals would investigate far and wide for any way to concoct a solution.
Obviously it would be dishonest of me to state that I've never seen abusive training. Believe me, I have seen more than my fair share! However, I can honestly state that in the situations noted above I haven't. Abusive training results from frustration and anger. Undeniably discontent trainers make stupid decisions that harm the man-dog relationship and cause added drawbacks that confuse the situation further. Thinking trainers do not fall into this trap. They understand that emotional training is no answer. In the same light however, they also understand that physical corrections may be required, and can be applied in a humanistic way.
Today there are an ever-evolving number of breeds each with their own characteristics. Each of these becomes paired to humans of all shapes, sizes, and physical abilities. Mentally prejudiced in some areas and open minded in others. There just isn’t any one training panacea for all their problems.
There are individual dogs that are exceedingly adaptable to training. These can be trained by using practically any technique or method. This type of animal is generally in the winner’s circle, is a pleasure to train, and certainly makes a trainer look good.
Techniques that will work for this type trainer and dog are not necessarily successful for all others. To advocate that the average trainer uses methods which only dogs with outstanding obedience potential are capable is to doom the trainer to failure, producing dogs that work with no spirit or fire. Such trainers are often the innocent perpetrators of the criticisms of all obedience training.
The training ideas presented in this series should give a high percentage of success with most trainers and dogs. Not asking anyone to use only these techniques, alternate suggestions will be given to motivate dogs that do not respond. All trainers are urged to pick and choose from the ideas given so that they develop their own “philosophy” of training. Every competent trainer needs to develop techniques that fit their abilities and goals. Anyone who has trained more than one dog knows of a technique that worked well for one but failed miserably on another. Individual differences of both dog and trainer must be considered if the dog is to be well trained.
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