Sunday, February 27, 2011

Effective Communication in Dog Training

Dogs are amazing creatures. They adapt to countless situations. They are phenomenal at associations: including learning the meaning or implication of many sounds, such as human language. A dog's "vocabulary" can reach upward of 150 distinct words! However, regardless of how smart, how skilled, and how adaptable they are, dogs will never be verbal animals. Their first language, so to speak, is not words, but body language. Because of this, it's only natural that your dog will interpret your words though a "filter" - of body language, facial expression, tone of voice, even your attention. And if one or more of these "disagree" with the words you are using, most dogs will "obey" your body language!

In my experience, most snags in the dog training process result from miscommunication, not willfulness, stubbornness, or dominance. While this article is geared toward training the family dog, the fact is that whether your dog is strictly a family pet, a competitor in canine sports, or a full-time working dog, getting the most out of your training time means learning to communicate effectively with your dog.

Communication Begins with Attention

Possibly the most fundamental form of communication is your attention. This is true whether you are teaching some new skill, practicing an old one, or refining an advanced behavior. When you give your attention to something your dog does - through touch, voice, eye contact, smiling, or laughter - you draw attention to the behavior. This tells your dog that you find the behavior worthy of interest. Dogs, being sociable creatures, find most interaction and attention reinforcing. They value it, and will work to get it - and this is not even considering whether or not the dog finds the behavior reinforcing in and of itself. So when training, keep in mind that you don't have to actively reward a behavior to reinforce it.

Bring yourself into a training session committed to focusing on your dog to the same extent that you are asking him to focus on you. Avoid training when you are distracted or pre-occupied. This is basic respect and consideration, no more than you would give any good friend! To be attentive to your dog, you don't need to stare at him, but you should be aware of him. An effective trainer is aware, present, and "in the moment" while training, ready and able to note and reward any and all good responses, as they happen. And if your dog gives a response you weren't hoping for? Instead of drawing attention to it, verbally or otherwise, ignore it and move on! Drawing attention to poor responses often simply cements them in the dog's brain, and makes it more likely that he will offer it again. Focus your energy and attention on behaviors you want to see again.

As you practice this approach to working with your dog, you will soon find that your dog will be working to gain your attention by doing those things you like. As your dog's behavior steadily improves, voluntary cooperation increases, your relationship with your dog gets stronger, and you both have more fun training. Kind of hard to find a down-side to that, don't you think?

The Body Language of Effective Dog Training

Training your dog is the ultimate expression of leadership: you are taking the initiative to teach, guide, and direct your dog. Your body language, therefore, should reflect your role as teacher and leader, communicating a calm self-confidence and composure. Let's look at the components of non-verbal communication as they affect your dog:

Invite learning with your facial expression and demeanor. Your body language begins at the top, with your face. Training should be a positive, pleasant experience for you and your dog. Before you begin, and periodically throughout, consciously relax your facial muscles. Smile gently. Soften your eyes. Take a deep, relaxing breath, and keep breathing! When you are relaxed and happy, you present a safe haven for your dog's attention. (And there is nothing to be tense about, right? This is dog training, not world peace!) A soft eye will invite your dog to seek out your face, whereas a hard stare may intimidate your dog into breaking off eye contact, reducing your ability to communicate clearly.

If you find yourself becoming flustered, frustrated, tense, or anxious, your may find that your dog reflects your emotions:

  • He may seek calmness elsewhere, by avoiding looking at you, or even trying to move away from you. Some dogs become exaggeratedly slow and sedate, or even show submissive behaviors, as they try to calm you.
  • He may "act out" in an attempt to distract you or diffuse the situation. This type of dog may become generally agitated, or even resort to silly antics to distract you from yourself!
  • If you become nervous, many dogs will reflect that nervousness, either distracting themselves from an uncomfortable situation, or looking around to find the source of your tension.

If any of these happen while training your dog, before you direct your frustration at him, look to yourself first. Take a deep, steady breath, relax your face and your body, smile, and try again!

Communicate confidence. When training your dog, especially a dog new to you or new to training, your movements and body language should give off an air of calm, relaxed confidence. As much as is realistic, remain upright without being rigid. (Remember your facial expression? Your body language should also "invite learning".) As a rule, an upright but relaxed posture helps communicate confident authority - an excellent teaching posture. If your body needs to bend, keeping your shoulders relatively back will help maintain a bearing of self-assurance. While this is more important with a dog beginning its training, and with naturally effusive or assertive personalities, any dog can become confused by too much bowing, bending, ducking, and bobbing. He may naturally assume that you are playing, acting submissive, anything but training! Any hand signals associated with commands should be clean, simple and definitive. They should be free from excessive, meaningless motion, and should never be used to threaten or pester the dog.

Communicate composure. Be still. Whether you are working on a stationary exercise (such as a sit-stay), or a moving exercise (such as heeling, or a recall), focus on keeping your body language "quiet". Don't bury your cue in a gush of confusing, meaningless gestures or activity. Allow your dog to focus on your words and any intended hand or body signals; don't put him in a position to have to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Once your dog is more advanced in his training, you may wish to teach him to respond to verbal cues despite unrelated body language. But for now - first things first. Walk before you run!

More than Just Words

Communicating clearly and effectively to your dog includes becoming aware of how your tone of voice, and delivery of cues, affect how your dog learns and responds. When training your dog, keep in mind that your voice conveys more than just the command itself.

First, be consistent. Dog owners new to training often vary their cue delivery, switching back and forth between, for example, a nice, straightforward "sit", a loud and forceful "SIT!", and a sing-songy, not particularly confident-sounding "si-yit?" To a dog, each of these sounds is very different, not like the same cue at all! Again, dogs are not verbal animals. Delivering a command that varies in tone, pitch, and length can and will confuse your training partner. Do yourself and your dog a favor: keep the sound of your cues consistent. In other words, pick a sound and stick with it!

Promote cooperation. When you give your dog a verbal cue, your voice, like your body language, should be relaxed and even. Speak in a normal tone. As you give your cue, picture your dog performing the exercise nicely -- this confidence will come through in your voice. Avoid tones that are whiny, questioning, or pleading. Trying to train your dog in these "lost puppy" tones will be an exercise in frustration. They will not gain you acknowledgment, much less respect! Remember, you are a teacher, a coach, a mentor - not a servant. At the other extreme, you don't need to assume a loud, tough-sounding "command voice". This is for two reasons. First, aggressive, intimidating tones tend to introduce resistance in more confident dogs, and unthinking subservience in less confident ones. Neither is conducive to learning, cooperation, or teamwork. Second, your dog is perfectly capable of listening and responding when you speak in a normal, pleasant, everyday tone of voice. Assuming you plan to utilize what you've taught your dog in your everyday life, you will be instructing your dogs here and there all day long. So, why in the world teach your dog that you have to play "drill sergeant" in order to have him do as you ask? It introduces unnecessary stress into training, is not particularly productive, and certainly doesn't reflect a relationship of willing partnership. The fact is, your dog is much more likely to respond calmly, willingly, and thoughtfully if your voice and demeanor are relaxed and conversational. The bottom line: to promote cooperation, teach your dog his cues in a voice that is reasonable, comfortable, and normal for you.

Sincere appreciation is key. All too often, we get so caught up and focused on teaching our dogs that, just when we need to relax and enjoy the moment of success, we end up giving praise that is hollow, rehearsed, and frankly, not very praise-like at all. Keep in mind that the words are not important; it's your demeanor that counts. Praise doesn't need to have a certain tonal quality or pitch nearly as much as it needs to convey that you are sincerely pleased and happy at that moment. In other words, your dog should feel truly appreciated for a job well done - regardless of whether the success was a long sought-after quantum leap, or one of the many baby steps to success along the way.

Feel free to "test run" different happy sounds on your dog, to see what kind of reaction you get. But again, the most important thing is that your dog knows, from your voice and your demeanor, that you are pleased. Don't think you can fool your dog - he lives with you and is fully aware of how you sound and look when you are happy, sad, mad, and indifferent. Mentally appreciate your dog as you give your praise, and it will come through in your voice.

If you do need to use your voice to indicate that you don't want a particular behavior - whether you say no, or ah-ahh, wrong, etc - the sound should be dismissive, not angry or frightening. The point is to educate, not intimidate. Remember, as you work with one another, both you and your dog will make mistakes. The point is not to make him feel badly for his mistake, but to learn how to best help him be right. A dog trained this way will understand your message, while continuing to want to work with you.

Putting it All Together

So, when working with your dog, make up your mind to relax, smile, be calm, and have fun. Can you do it another way? Sure. But this article is about helping you make the most of your communication with your dog, and maximizing the effectiveness - and enjoyment - of your training time together. Remember, both you and your dog will make mistakes as you go along. It's not only okay, it's natural and a to-be expected part of the learning process. Now get out there and enjoy yourselves!

[ ... ]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some Less Obvious Benefits of Dog Training - Help For Owners of Older Dogs

Personally providing your dog with proper obedience training has some very obvious benefits -- establishing strong bonds with your dog, you'll correct bad behaviors, it stimulates your dog's intellect and desire to learn, it encourages inclusion between your dog and the rest of your household, and, in the long run, it saves you time that otherwise would be dedicated to cleaning up your dog's messes, smoothing over offended parties, and repairing damaged property.

Here, I'd like to bring to light some of the less obvious, but no less important, benefits of obedience training. Hopefully you'll be further encouraged to make obedience training an activity you and your dog will embark on immediately, if not sooner.

It's a fun, enjoyable experience

Don't look at dog training as a chore. View it as an opportunity for you and your budding best friend to begin forging a deep, mutually beneficial bond and relationship. Approach it as just one of many enjoyable activities you and your dog will share. Follow up your obedience training with trick training and you'll be sure to have a great deal of fun. While some of the tricks will present a challenge for both of you, just make it a pleasurable experience. Be patient, be kind, and be generous with your praise when your dog achieves those little successes.

You'll be rewarded with a much happier dog

Obedience training is one of the most important aspects of raising a dog. In fact, a well trained dog is by far a happier dog! Why? Because a trained dog requires fewer restrictions. The more reliable the dog, the more freedom he is given.

For example, many stores and businesses that normally won't allow dogs on their premises will make an exception for a puppy or a dog that will heel nicely by his owner's side, or will do a sit-stay or down-stay without hesitation.

And when company arrives in your home, there's no need to banish a well-behaved dog to another room for fear that he will be a royal nuisance. Moreover, because a well-mannered, obedience-trained dog is both appreciated and welcomed, he receives more attention and interaction from family members, visitors, and passers-by, than does the ill-mannered dog.

Dog training may someday save your dog's life

Am I being a bit melodramatic here? Not so. Envision this scene. A young lady, we'll call Sarah is walking Buster her dog on a nice suburban neighborhood sidewalk. Trees line both sides of the street, cars are parallel parked on both sides as well, and the old twin brick homes all have white porches. Its early morning, not much foot traffic or autos on the road, so Sarah is pretty relaxed and her mind is wandering. Well, where there are trees there are squirrels. And one pops out in front of Sarah and her pooch. Startled, the squirrel makes a bee line for a tree across the street. The dog, also a bit startled by the sudden appearance of the squirrel right in front of him, takes off in hot pursuit. Being relaxed as Sarah is, her grip on the leash is also relaxed. Buster's sudden thrust easily pulls the leash from Sarah's hand and now both squirrel and dog are heading between the parked cars towards the other side of the street.

And, against the odds, a car is heading down the street on a collision course with Buster's path. The jerk on Sarah's hand jostles her back from mind-wandering to the scene unfolding. Fortunately she collects her thoughts quick enough to yell, "BUSTER...HEEL! BUSTER COME!" "Good Lord", Sarah thinks out loud, "whodda thought the hours Buster and I spent on obedience lessons would end up saving his life?" But that's just what happened. Sarah's voice control over her dog was the only impetus Buster needed to drop any thought of catching that squirrel, and simply do what he's done so many times before - obey his owner's simple commands.

And that's just one of many possible scenarios where a simple obedience command could save your dog's life. He could slip out of his collar or bolt out an unattended open door. Enough said. Point made I hope.

Your training may save someone else's life

Also not too far fetched, especially if your dog is one of the so-called "at risk" breeds, known for their capability and proclivity to inflict injury or worse on people if provoked or if threatened. Or, more likely, if they perceive their owner is being threatened. Humor me and picture another scene. A man is relaxing at home with his Rottweiler Manfred, watching the weekend football game. He hears a knock on the front door, but before he can even get up, walk towards the door and open it, in walks his lumberjack uncle from Vancouver whom he hasn't seen in more than twenty five years.

He's big and burly and one of those touchy-feely boisterous types. He opens his arms, strides towards the man with a bellowing voice to give him a big bear hug. Manfred, who followed his owner to the door, sees his master about to be mauled by this loud, huge, human stranger and he instinctively attacks the uncle. A powerful Rottweiler protecting his master versus a perceived human threat. My money is on the Rottweiler. Unless of course, the dog received proper obedience training by his master, who could then quickly diffuse the life-threatening attack with an authoritative "MANFRED...HEEL!". Again, I'm sure you can envision dozens of ways a similar scenario could play out that could result in serious injury or worse. Large, poorly behaved, disobedient dogs can be much more than an annoyance; they can be dangerous. Obedience training is imperative. Especially for owners of big dogs. That's all the stories, I promise.

You'll lay the foundation for a very happy home

I think it would be safe to say that obedience training benefits everyone. Dog, dog owner, dog owner's family, neighbors, visitors to the home, strangers and other dogs met on walks and family outings, the dog's vet and her staff, the folks at the boarding facility and the groomers, the mailman. You get the idea. There's just no downside to having a well trained dog. Done properly, the process will be enjoyable and the results will be well worth time and effort expended.

A well-behaved, obedient dog is a pleasure to have around. No worries about damage to the home. No need to disrupt daily family living with constant disciplining the dog for behaviors that may be natural to the dog, but very upsetting to the family. No worries about children playing with the dog. No concerns when a visitor stops by the home. Walks are leisurely and a pleasure. No need to take detours should you see another dog approaching. No fretting about a well-meaning child reaching down to pet your dog. Car rides with your dog are uneventful.

Now how could all of this not contribute to a very happy home?


Now that you've decided to begin training your dog, your choice becomes a dog trainer, or do you train yourself to train your dog. For anyone who has read other articles of mine, know my choice is to self-train your dog. It's just a tremendous opportunity for you to build such a fantastic relationship with your companion.

You'll need a training manual that covers all aspects of obedience and trick training. And provides you the opportunity to get your unanswered questions answered through direct and real time correspondence with professional trainers. The manual I most recommend, and use regularly is available through the link below. Best of luck.

[ ... ]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dog Training Clubs - A Great Way to Help Train and Socialize Your Dog

Dog training clubs are a great way to get help with obedience training and continued socialization of your puppy or dog. There are many different dog training clubs, and with a little research you can find one close to your home.

The people you will meet who are involved in the Club are people like you, who are very fond and proud of their own dogs, and also want to make sure their pets are trained well enough to be sociable and well behaved in any situation-even among crowds of other people and their dogs.

Each club will have scheduled weekly or bi-weekly classes, and you should choose the class you want to sign up to, according to the level of training your dog has (or has not) already received. The trainers in the course will have lots of helpful advice and should be experienced themselves.

Many clubs are affiliated with the National Dog Owner's association. The N.D.O.A. has occasional meetings and get together-which also offer a week of training qualification courses for dog owners who are interested in qualifying as obedience trainers.

There are several types of dog training clubs, but most of them offer a variety of classes ranging from the beginning obedience training class (teaching your pet to sit, stay, lay down, etc) on through intermediate training classes and finally to more advanced types of dog training. The more advanced courses may teach your dog how to do dog show competitions, protection training or tracking training, to name a few.

You can practice the exercises you and your dog learned during the previous lesson at home during the rest of the week-your puppy or dog's homework-and be prepared to learn the next step the following lesson. In addition to learning obedience training, the socializing that your pet gets from being trained in a group setting, along with the interaction with other people and their pets, is a terrific way to keep your dog friendly. Often dogs that turn out aggressive are dogs that have had no chance to interact with other people or dogs and learn how much fun it can be to have canine as well as human friends to play with.

While the dog training clubs do have members who are interested in show dog competition, many of the members just enjoy having a well behaved pet, and the social aspects of the dog training clubs. For those interested in the dog show competitions, they should check with the American Kennel Club for dog show events schedules. The AKC dog shows are for pure bred dogs only, with each breed of dog competing with other dogs of breeds with similar characteristics.

If you have a special breed of dog, such as a German shepherd, often there may be a club of fellow German shepherd (or Labrador, etc.) enthusiasts near you. However, any well run dog training club will offer training course suitable for any breed of dog you may have. Any type of dog will respond favorably to correctly applied positive training techniques. It is a good idea to try to get some feedback from a friend or fellow dog owner about the particular club you are interested in joining in order to make sure it is right for you and your pet.

For dog owners who want to really push the limits of dog training, there are Schutzhund training clubs for dog owner's of very specially trained dogs, usually( but not limited to) German shepherd dogs, that are trained to perform tracking, obedience, and protection trials in order to attain at rating of Schutzhund I, II, or III, depending on the level of difficulty of the trial. This is the highest level of dog training, and is not part of a regular dog training club's itinerary. These dogs are suitably qualified to be police dogs or search and rescue dogs.

[ ... ]

©2009 dog training tips | by TNB