A Common question I hear from new training clients is “how often should I train my dog?” My answer for this is training never stops. I don’t mean this to be taken as, you need to be teaching new behaviors endlessly without any personal time. What I mean by this is, everything you do or don’t do with your dog is creating habits that either work for or against you. For example; if a person trains their dog 30 minutes a day and then completely stop having any structure to their dogs life and allows the dog to do whatever they want, what do you think will stick? The 30 minutes of training, or the other 15 and a half hours they are awake left to be wild and unattended?
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Good dog training in my opinion consists of having clear rules and boundaries, meeting the dog’s energy requirements through structured play, walking and training, being proactive and prepared, giving your dog a job by making them earn everything, having good management and setting your dog up to succeed. I believe every dog should be trained using balanced dog training ( my definition is teaching your dog first by using good management techniques, then once behaviors are well known holding your dog accountable for their actions.) Compare this to a child learning to ride a bike, first they have to want to know how to ride a bike (motivation), then we help steady them and also use training wheels, (management) then as they improve we stop holding on and take off the training wheels ( behavior is learned and now they are accountable.) The same is true when it comes to training a dog, you should motivate your dog to learn, use management techniques until the behavior is acquired, then hold your dog accountable for their actions.
During my initial consultations I frequently hear the following complaints; My dog jumps on people when they come over, my dog begs whenever we are eating, my dog jumps on the counter, my dog barks at everything outside, my dog pulls on walks and barks and lunges at other dogs, my dog won’t come back when I call, my dog is wild in the house, my dog gets on the furniture and overall complaints of dogs that won’t listen. How did we let it get this way?
There are many answers to that question; lack of management, ( using leashes and dog crates in the house) lack of good training technique, lack of exercise, lack of leadership (not having the dog earn everything). In short we as owners are failing our dogs. The troubling aspect of this to me as a trainer is the fact that many people expect their dogs to be well behaved without putting in the time or effort. I say this to every client and have written this before, DOGS DO NOT COME TO US WITH THE ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND HUMAN LANGUAGE, it is our job as pet owners to teach them what we want.
When I discuss my philosophy of management and being prepared, many owners completely understand why this needs to occur, but feel like it is too much effort to put in. I don’t bend on this topic, so many unwanted behaviors can be prevented before they ever occur this way. In my opinion it is much easier to prevent unwanted behavior from occurring than it is too stop them once they are already there. The analogy I make here is like trying to lose weight. For anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight (which i believe is the majority of us) have you ever thought to yourself “man I wish I wouldn’t have let myself get so out of shape, it would have been easier if I took care of myself better beforehand?” Now instead of watching what you eat and being a little more active you have to overhaul your life to stick to a diet and exercise. The point I’m driving at here is that it is much easier to start on the right path than it is to get lost and find your way back. You will spend more time, effort and money if you don’t do it right the first time anyway.
The beautiful thing about dogs in this scenario that helps us, is that they are highly intelligent creatures. Because of that, a strict management routine doesn’t need to last a lifetime. Dogs are creatures of habit much like us, which goes to show we can create both good and bad habits in them.
I’d like to share the story of my own dog and the power of following the management until trained protocol. Before I get to what I did as far as training goes, it is important to know his background and the situation he was brought into. This story starts in March of 2016, my wife and I had just moved into a condo in South Elgin and it was our first place alone together. My wife and I used to do some pet-sitting for a great local company ( Wild Things Pet Services) and one of her former clients had just brought home a Saint Bernard puppy and also owned a hairless cat named Monty. The new puppy was very predatory towards Monty and was trying to hunt him every chance she got. I offered my training services to this client, but she went in another direction and long story short she decided to give up the cat. My wife jumped on this opportunity because she had become very close to Monty after caring for him for several years. So low and behold my first pet on my own was not the Doberman I had wanted since I was 12 it was a 14 yr old hairless cat lol. Funny how life works out sometimes… On a side note, Monty is the coolest cat I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and we love him dearly.
Fast forward to October of 2016 and I finally had enough of not having a dog, I always wanted a European bred Doberman puppy, but I didn’t have the time for a puppy at this point in my life so I decided to rescue a dog that was just a little older and had some of the more time consuming issues puppies have behind them. I searched all across the united states for a good fit and finally found Dalton a fawn 1 year old male Doberman at the Southwest Ohio Doberman rescue. We took a road trip out to meet him and because he was heart-worm positive we had to foster first and then adopt.
When we got back home I immediately started my management until trained protocol. I kept Dalton on a leash and flat collar to begin with until I could condition him to a prong collar, the leash didn’t leave my hand for several days unless he was crated. I walked Dalton around his new home while Monty was gated off in our workout room. It is important to try get a dog comfortable in a new place first before immediately trying to get new pets to interact. Monty eventually came out from hiding to see his new brother, he was still behind the gate, but they started making eye contact from a distance. Right off the bat I never let Dalton fixate, I made kissy noises, tapped his flank and moved him away from the cat. Quick tip aggression or reactivity starts with fixation, if you stop it there it won’t escalate.
Next I did role reversal, I put Dalton behind the gate and let Monty roam the house. I chose to use the gate because Dalton wasn’t crate trained yet. Dalton fixated and barked a couple of times, but I was able to break his fixation by kicking the gate. That was all for the first night, I would have done a bit more but I spent 12 hours driving that day to get Dalton and it was already time for bed by the time we got back.
The next day with Monty gated in the workout room I started formally training Dalton, first teaching him our marker system. I use “yes” as a mark/release, “good” as a duration marker, “eh eh” as my try again/no reward marker and “no” as my correction marker. I first taught “yes” and “good” through using food rewards and then started working on engagement training. I worked on this in 2 different ways and like both ways of doing it for various reasons. The first style of engagement training I borrowed from Michael Ellis. I began this process by saying “you ready” and proceeded to mark and reward any shred of attention Dalton was giving me. I started far away from Monty and worked my way towards Dalton’s threshold which at the time was about 5 ft. Any time i’d lose his attention i’d quickly move or verbally get his attention by making kiss and whistling noises. The second form of engagement training I borrowed from Chad Mackin, who is a very versatile trainer and incredibly knowledgeable about training in general. This method uses a no reward marker (eh eh) coupled with pressure from an active collar when a dog is doing something wrong. It is essentially a dog training version of hot and cold, “yes” is hot, “good” you’re getting warmer and “eh eh” is cold. Using this method I was able to say no, let’s not pay attention to Monty and yes pay attention to me. Now I had all of my markers established besides the “no” marker
The behaviors I started training in the background of my management protocol were Heel (walk next to me without pulling), Place (go to your bed and stay there until released), Recall (come when called), Watch (making sustained eye contact), Sit with duration and down with duration. All of these behaviors serve a specific purpose, they all work on impulse control and are incompatible with chasing a cat. Think about it this way, if my dog has to be sitting he can’t chase a cat, if my dog has to be in place he can’t be chasing a cat…. without repeating all of them, you get my point. The recall also serves the purpose of calling him back to me if I feel a situation turning into a problem.
Without getting too detailed into how I trained each individual behavior, I want to point out a general rule about my style of training. I always teach a new behavior using positive reinforcement, then layer over pressure ( negative reinforcement) and finally corrections (positive punishment) if necessary. The reason I do this in this order is so my dog can first know what he’s supposed to be doing before he is just forced to do it. This order keeps the learning process having the lowest stress level possible as well. The first part (teaching with positive reinforcement) is about establishing a good relationship and creating motivation. The second part ( adding pressure) is to make the behavior more reliable and to help your dog gain a greater understanding of what you want from him. The third part (adding corrections) is to make your dog want to avoid doing the wrong thing. To me this can be summed up by creating a value system. For example, Dalton’s food drive 7/10, Dalton’s desire to chase the cat 9/10, Dalton’s desire to avoid pressure or a correction 10/10. Some things dogs encounter in their lives just simply have more value or novelty than what we as humans can offer as far as positive reinforcement goes.
Back to the story, so now that Dalton knows these behaviors I start using them in my daily life. If i’m sitting in the family room watching tv or am on my computer Dalton is in place, if i’m cooking Dalton is in place. If i’m walking from room to room and want him with me he’s in a heel, if i’m walking to the door to let him out he is in a heel. If I want to call him to me from anywhere in the house I use my recall cue. If we are training or playing and Monty walks by I put him in a sit or down. I’m essentially using my obedience cue’s like a carpenter using the right tools from his toolbox.
I can honestly say only twice did I have to correct Dalton for going after Monty, both times we were walking around the house in heel and Dalton went chasing after him. To my credit and Dalton’s, Monty comes out of nowhere, is very bold and I am no expert in training a cat.. That is a huge variable in this situation. Monty would frequently put himself in harms way. When Dalton took off after Monty I said “no” and gave him a firm prong collar correction both times it occurred. Dalton learned from this, I set up a scenario where we practiced a lot of correct things to do and also said “no you can’t do that”. It is a lot of work to start out with, but it really was pretty simple.
The worst thing people can do in a similar situation whether it is introducing two dogs, or like me a dog and a cat is to just let the animals figure it out. If I had done that I don’t think Monty would be with us today. Overtime as Dalton proved to me I could trust him, Monty and Dalton developed a pretty funny little relationship. They sit on the couch together, enjoy the fireplace together and even share my wife and I’s attention together. Sometimes Dalton will try to play with Monty, but Monty still finds that to be a little much.
The beautiful thing about dog’s is they are incredibly intelligent. After a while of doing something things just become habit or second nature to them. Same can bee said about us, for example learning to drive was a little overwhelming to begin with, but after a while your driving without having to think much about it. The outcome that my training plan produces is a dog that eventually starts making great decisions on their own, in my opinion that’s how training should be, a process that slowly and carefully allows your dog more freedom as they show you they are ready for it.