There are many ways to train a dog, but there are a few things that will help your dog learn more effectively.
First teaching in a low distraction, stress free environment is very helpful.
Learning new things can be hard for everyone. However, we can help our pets along by choosing to teach in a quiet environment where there are few distractions. Just like humans going to a quiet library to learn, when we are teaching our dog a new behavior, start in your house or other “boring” area.
Once your dog has learned the behavior in a quiet environment, begin adding distractions. For example, the distraction may be that you clap or jump up and down as your dog practices sit and stay. Another distraction may be that you go to a more active part of the house or in the backyard when training. You want to be sure to add distraction gradually so you don’t overwhelm your dog.
You will know if you are overwhelming your dog if he/she suddenly will not do a previously known behavior in a new environment. It may look like your dog has “forgotten” the behavior when you ask with a distraction present. When this occurs, first try to “reteach” the behavior like you did in the beginning. If your dog still refuses to do the behavior and he/she can do it in other situations, it means that the situation is too distracting to focus. The dog is not being stubborn.
This is similar to a wife asking her husband to take out the trash at the same time a great play is occurring in a football game he is watching or telling a teen ager that dinner is ready while he plays an intense video game.
If this happens, reduce the amount of distraction and retry again after more practice.
Another way to strengthen a behavior is to increase the time (or duration) that a behavior is done.
For a stay, this means gradually increasing the amount of time that your dog stays. At first, start with a few seconds, then gradually add a few more seconds each time. Be careful to not push to fast so you don’t set your dog up to fail.
For some dogs, getting past five seconds in the beginning may be hard. For others, they may get to 30 seconds rather quickly. You will know if you are increasing your duration too fast if your dog begins to move before you tell them that the stay is over. If this happens, simply go back to a shorter time that was successful, take more time to practice and then try the longer duration again.
Adding distance to your training will also help your dog with fluency of a behavior.
This means practicing how far away you can be when you ask your dog to do a behavior, such as asking your dog to sit when you are 20 feet away or calling your dog when he is 100 feet away. When you increase your distance, you need to do it gradually like you did with duration. If you are working on a recall, begin calling your dog to you when he/she is very close, then gradually increase the distance. Again, if the dog “fails” the you are adding too much distance and need to practice while you are closer.
A critical part to effective training is practice and repetition.
If you are learning to play piano or a new sport, the more you practice, the better and easier the new skill gets. As you practice with your dog, be sure to do many repetitions of each of the training techniques above -distraction, distance and duration. However, do not add them all at once. At first, practice each separately. Then practice them together.
Learning new things can be challenging for dogs and humans. If you are learning how to train and the dog is learning new cued behaviors, it is important to be patient with yourself and your dog. Adding these different aspects of training will allow for more success for you and your dog.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.
Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.
Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.
Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (trulyforcefree.com).