Following on from my thoughts in yesterday's blog post here are another couple of key factors in why dog training just isn't as simple as the volume of treats your give them.
Clients often refer to me as the dog lady/ dog whisperer or occasionally a magician (!) because I seem to be able to tame even the most unruly young dog whilst they’re having difficulty just managing to hold onto their lead! Is it magic? No, nothing like! Its just confidence that has come from practicing dog training skills with my own dogs and other peoples.
Imagine if you were trying to learn something new and the person explaining it seemed unsure of their instructions, and their attention was constantly wandering back and forth to a manual. That’s what it can be like for our dogs – training them is hard because both of you are learning new skills for the first time. This is why they will sometimes struggle to stay focused on the task in hand, because they’re not convinced you’re entirely sure what that is!
This is where I like to employ the rule of thumb – if in doubt, reward the dog! That way the dog is kept enthused to keep trying to figure out what you want – but be sure to do it sincerely. Dogs know when you’re being wishy-washy because you’re not sure – so even if you’re not confident about what you’re asking for, act like you are.
Think parent with small child and appearing confident about new things they’re learning – like reading a book or riding a bike. Am I sure that my youngest son will definitely stay upright when I let go of his saddle and stop running along behind him? Not entirely, but focusing on being positive and giving him clear directions whilst he’s learning means he’ll mimic my focus and confidence – with exciting, independent cycling results!
Dogs are such delightfully black and white creatures – and no I’m not just referring to those with black and white furry coats. I mean that they are generally very biddable provided they live in a world where the goal posts remain in a set place, and there are clear guidelines to what will get them what they want.
But surely they just want to please us, I hear you cry, what about Lassie and other doggy heroes and heroines? I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m afraid not, dogs are very much about what’s in it for them. Not that they don’t form strong emotional bonds of love and loyalty, but seeking out what’s in it for them is an important part of their genetic makeup. After all a village dog that isn’t constantly seeking out ways to find food, water, shelter etc. is a village dog that isn’t going to survive for very long.
And something that people can find difficult to understand is that rewards for them aren’t just in the form of tasty treats or a favourite toy. Rewarding activities are a huge part of what make our dogs tick. Simple activities like coming up on the sofa for a cuddle and attention, going out for a walk, getting into the car or running with another dog. We want to be aware that we are either training our dogs all the time, or our dogs will be training us to let us have what they want – and they’d ideally take it for free!
Take my collies that would happily use every human visitor as a butler if they were allowed to do so. Dropping a toy at their feet and expecting it to be picked up and thrown – repeating several hundred times… Fine if you wanted to play and perhaps you ask them for something like a simple Sit or Down before commencing the game, but don’t be pushed into being a court jester for their personal entertainment. I love my dogs dearly, but they are not my whole world not matter how much they might make my life whole.
So be aware when you’re talking to your dog – are you asking for that Sit 10 times before it happens? Did you absentmindedly ask your dog to Wait/ Stay, but then let them move before you were ready anyway? These details may not seem important to you, but they certainly are to your dog. But remembering to do this automatically takes practice, until it’s second nature and you don’t even have to think about it – this is a huge factor in why new owners can struggle with their dog training.