Fitting in time for training can be a challenge for many people so here are some tips to help you get the most out of your training time.
Teach new skills in an area that is free of distractions so your dog can focus easily.
As your dog progresses, strengthen the training by adding one of “duration”, “distance” and “distractions.” “Duration” refers to the length of time a dog can stay in a sit or a down for example. “Distance” refers to the distance from the trainer at which a dog can do an exercise. “Distraction” refers to things that compete with us for the dog’s attention (like other dogs, farm animals, children, ball games).
Increase the difficulty of the training exercise by adding only one new criteria at a time.
For example, if we are introducing increasing the distance from the trainer at which the dog will sit on cue, avoid increasing the distractions or duration at the same time.
Use rewards in training!
Police and military dogs in the Netherlands are being trained with the trainers rewarding desired behaviors, and by teaching the dogs in small steps that build on one another. They have been training this way since 1996 and report that they have cut their training time down to one-eighth of the time it originally took and they have found that dogs trained this way handle new situations confidently as they are not afraid to try things (Prins, Haak, & Gerritsen, 2013).
Avoid “correcting” the dog.
Instead, set them up for success. A one-year study based on detailed surveys with owners of dogs revealed that using punishing techniques when training dogs tends to increase the aggression in the animals substantially.
Results showed that 43 percent of the dogs responded aggressively in response to being hit or kicked, 41 percent increased their aggression in response to a human growling at the dog, 38 percent responded aggressively to being forced to give up an item, 31 percent to an “alpha roll”, 30 percent responded aggressively to a stare down by a human, 29 responded with aggression to being forced into a “dominance down”, 26 percent responded with aggression to being grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and 20 percent responded aggressively to being sprayed with water and so on (Herron, Herron, Shofer, & Reisner, 2009).
Incorporate play into training sessions.
Play is often used as a reward in the training of working dogs who do detection, seeing eye or search and rescue work. We know that social interactions with familiar humans are highly rewarding for many dogs and that dogs whose owners play with them have been found to score higher in obedience tests than those whose owners do not play with them (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).
Play is associated with a reduction in the stress hormone “cortisol.” To get the most out of play, keep things positive as the benefits of play are reduced if the dog receives a verbal correction from the trainer. Dogs who have been trained with punishment-based methods are much less interactive during play than dogs who are trained with rewards (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).
Play seems to work as a reward because it is fun for the participants. In studies of rats, neurobiologist Jaak Panksepp discovered that an increase in opiates facilitates playfulness and opiates may enhance the pleasure and rewards associated with playing.
Invest in the right equipment for your dog.
Comfortable and well fitting harnesses are widely available as are long lines. Manage the environment the dog is in so that you can prevent the dog from practicing behaviors you may be trying to change.
Don’t worry if you can’t train everyday. Once or two short training sessions a week can result in a well-trained dog. In fact, a study on beagles revealed that weekly training resulted in better learning performance than training five times a week, when performance is measured in the number of training sessions required to reach a certain training level (Meyer & Ladewig, 2008).
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc.Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force free and humane training methods for all animals.
Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and as a behaviour consultant through the International Association of Behavior Consultants and through the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of The Pet Professional Guild, an organization committed to force free training of animals and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education.
Jane is the content creator of the online course Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour, which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of Perfect Puppy Parenting, a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog.
Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer.
Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it’s participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client’s dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.