Homeschooling Your Dog: Essential Training Concepts to Help You Succeed

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In this next installment of Fido’s Homeschooling DIY training program, we will explore some commonly used training terms and ideas that are useful for establishing a pawsitive approach for positive results. An overall understanding of the following concepts will help while working with your dog in the “classroom” as well as out and about in the real world:

Motivation

Incentives and rewards can help bring out the best in your best friend. The key is to look at what’s rewarding from your dog’s point of view, as opposed to your own or what you think your dog should like. When you know what motivates your inquisitive canine, you can more effectively use positive reinforcement to foster behaviors that you want to see repeated (and teach new behaviors that are incompatible with ones you’d rather not see). Harnessing your dog’s motivation keeps learning fun and can enhance the bond you have with your pup.

Clear Communication

When it comes to training a specific behavior, it’s best to stick with a plan that’s black and white with no gray areas. For instance, if you’re training your dog to sit, then reinforce your dog for exactly that – sitting. If your dog sits, then jumps up to get the treat, wait until he is sitting again for delivering the treat. Using the “good enough” approach will result in a variety of behaviors, including some that are unwanted. This clear communication is less confusing for the pet who is figuring out what you want. Be patient, and trust that your dog will understand what you’re communicating and get it (if you’re consistent with what you’re reinforcing).

Timing

Another key to clear communication is timing. In order for any animal to learn that one thing is associated with another, events must be in proper order. One thing predicts another. So, in reward-based training, if the reward doesn’t immediately follow the desired behavior, your pup may think he’s being rewarded for some other action. Do your best to keep this in mind. The occasional slip-up is inevitable and that’s okay. Positive reinforcement training is pretty forgiving in this regard – one of its many advantages over harsher training techniques.

Threshold

To insure you’re keeping things positive, watch out for body language indicating your pup may be feeling any stress or discomfort. Don’t push. Just like us, dogs have a breaking point. Make adjustments as needed to stay well below that threshold at all times. 

Abstract Thinking?

Dogs are sentient beings. It’s clear that they are quite capable of thinking, learning and problem-solving. However, because of the way their brains develop, it’s also pretty safe to say that dogs do not understand the concept of right and wrong. What they do understand is what is safe and what is dangerous — what works and what doesn’t work. Over time, with repetition and consistency, dogs figure out how to get more of what they want and to avoid what they don’t want. It’s that simple.

Teachable Moments

Training is an ongoing process. Throughout the day, you can ask your dog for a sit, down, wait or stay in exchange for food, treats, games of fetch and other life rewards your dog wants. When we give our inquisitive canines opportunities to “earn a living,” training becomes mutually rewarding, fun (your dog will probably think it’s a game) and a way to build an even better bond of trust. Win-win-win.

Generalization

Taking advantage of these teachable moments, at home and on walks, at different times of day, etc. can really help with the next important concept – generalizing. Generalizing means taking skills dogs have grasped in one area and making sure they understand them in many other contexts. For instance, your dog sits beautifully, on cue, while at home, with no one else around. But he might not know how to do this while out and about in an unfamiliar area with tons of other distractions. Dogs learn things in very context-specific ways, so understanding when your dog is struggling to generalize (he’s not ignoring you!) is key. You will likely make impressive progress by re-teaching cues in various environments.

3-D Training

The 3-D training concepts here are: distance, duration and distraction and they are pretty self- explanatory, but let’s review as they pertain to homeschooling your dog.

  • Distance: Think about the distance at which you’re asking your dog to perform a behavior (such as recall) and increase that distance slowly, bit by bit. 
  • Duration is simply the length of time you ask your dog to perform a specific behavior (such as sit). Remember to use a cue, like “you’re free,” to clearly release your dog from the behavior each time. Like distance, duration is something that needs to be built up slowly. 
  • Distraction: Distractions are everywhere! So it’s important to incorporate controlled distractions into your training. 

What the 3-D training concepts have in common is that gradual change here is critical to success. Expecting too much too fast, can risk stalling out your training. But if that happens, it’s okay. Just take a step back, make things easier, and try again.

And there you have it – some essential training concepts that will set you and your pup up for success in your training adventures. Any questions? Please comment below or contact us.

Thank you again for being an inquisitive dog guardian!


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