Can Anyone Train a Dog?

0 | Posted:

Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

Question:

Hi Dr. Yin, your videos are great but you’re an expert! Will it work for someone like me who does not train dogs for a living? I really liked the Pepe one with the crate. What if the dog is not treat driven? That was great!! I’m getting a standard Poodle puppy in a few months and I’m trying to learn all I can. Thank you!! Desiree.

Answer

Good job to you for doing your homework before you get your pup! Yes, the techniques on my web page can work for anyone whether beginner or advanced. The crate training techniques are especially simple. And interestingly, beginners and non-trainers often do much better because their interpretation of the techniques is not clouded by habits that they have already learned.

But you do bring up a good point. Many techniques, although simple, require more coordination and thoughtfulness than it first appears. Consequently, the success or speed of success depends on the ability of the humans to perform the techniques, the personality of the pet, and how consistent the people are about carrying out the program.

Training is a Technical Skill

You may see trainers or even TV personalities who demonstrate techniques as if a cursory demonstration is a substitute for teaching.

Some people may think that training is an intangible art. Although some art may be involved, training is actually more of a technical skill, like a sport. This sport requires that we reward the dog or puppy with something he wants within half a second of performing the good behavior and that we remove the reward for undesirable behavior before the behavior actually gets rewarded. For instance, let’s say we have a dog that loves to jump on us for attention and we would prefer he sits to be petted. If we stand up straight, remain silent (so it’s clear we’re ignoring him) when he comes to us for attention, and then reach to pet him immediately after he sits, he will understand that sitting is what earns him the petting. If he then starts to jump as soon as we start petting, we should remove our hands and even stand up straight so that our message is loud and clear —standing leads to removal of attention, sitting leads to petting. If we delay the posture that tells the dog that we are now removing attention, then the message for him will be muddy. This point about timing and the importance of using the right body posture to provide the correct message to the pooch is important regardless of the type of techniques used.

Because training is a technical skill, like a sport, even the finer aspects can be learned if you have an instructor who can break the pieces down for you. For instance how you deliver the food reward to your pet is as important as making sure your pet’s hungry during training sessions. Good instructors should show you how to deliver the reward so that you don’t accidentally encourage the pooch to jump or grab for the food and how to deliver the reward efficiently so that the game is fun for the pet. They also pick out your little accidental movements that tell the dog you’re not paying attention when what you want is to form a mental connection with the dog.

Technique Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect if You Start Off Early and with the Right Pet.

Fortunately, just as a weekend sports enthusiast may still be able to hit a baseball well enough to get a hit or play golf well enough to have a pleasant game, the average owner doesn’t necessarily need to have perfect technique, unless they wait until they have developed serious behavioral disorders such as aggression. Several factors determine the level of ability needed.

One factor is the ease or difficulty of the behaviors you’re teaching. For instance crate training, when performed even in a crude version is easy. Training dogs to sit, lie down, or come when called are also easy tricks to teach. But to convert these exercises from tricks that the dog performs only when you have food to good behaviors that occur when needed during every day life requires much more practice and consistency.

A second factor is the personality of the pup. For instance, some dogs are naturally laid back, highly food motivated, and oddly enough want to please their owners. Such dogs often learn good behavior even when their owners practically have to pantomime what they want. Other dogs are more independent and interested in the outside environment. These dogs won’t learn good behaviors by accident and are much less likely to bend to force. They need owners who have greater skill at training. Oh, and don’t’ worry about having a pooch that is not food motivated. All pups have to eat for a living. If they understand that the food is available only for short periods throughout the day—ideally all through training sessions (at first) or in a puzzle toy– and that what they don’t work for, they don’t eat, they will learn to value food.

A third factor is how early you start. Starting as soon as you get the pup—meaning even right at 7-8 weeks—will speed the process immensely. At 7-8 weeks puppies are not as coordinated as their adult counterparts. They can’t jump as hard, as high or as fast as an adolescent, so it’s easier to reward them for sitting and remaining seated before they have had a chance to jump. When you first put a leash on a pup, they don’t tend to pull. Rather, they generally need to be coaxed forward with a food lure or praise and the desire to get to you. As a result, in that first week of leash walking, you can spend the entire short walk rewarding the pup for being at heel position and even luring them forward to that position if needed. And, every time you stop, you can guide them to sit using a treat. Within a week or two, if you walk them regularly, they should be picking up good leash walking behavior such that food can now be used as a reward after they perform the good behaviors rather than as a lure. In fact, with puppies we can easily train most of the polite behaviors that characterize a well-behaved adult right from the start. By doing so, they won’t have a chance to establish bad habits of jumping on you, lunging or dragging you on their leash. So, you won’t have ingrained bad behaviors to reverse.

The Goal of Training is to Make Good Behavior Fun

Overall, the goal of the techniques on my site are to make training fun for both the owner and pet. If all interactions are fun and bad behaviors are not inadvertently rewarded, the pet will be more willing to behave well regularly regardless of his personality.

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