I was in Alpharetta last week at a new Home Dog Training client working with him and his three-year-old Olde English Bulldogge named Anne Boleyn (Annie for short). I love Olde English Bulldogges and Annie was full of life and easily gave us focus. The big problems that my client was facing with Annie was her running to the front door, jumping on people, and not coming to him when they were in the back yard. These were all “standard” issues, and we have some really great exercises to solve them.
Annie learned quite quickly and my client was very happy with the results he could observe with Annie and the techniques he had learned to keep Annie “on the straight and narrow”. As we were finishing up, he asked about getting another dog. He loved Annie and thought that “two would be even better”. He wondered how soon he should start training the new dog and how often and when he should be working with Annie. I told him that one can never be sure what will happen when they get a second dog “as a playmate” for their current dog. We have seen great results and some results that were not as planned. We did have some observations regarding how often and when to work with Anne.
Please humor me for a moment as I step back in time. If you are really old, you may remember Saturday Morning cartoons and watching Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy. (You can always Google it if you have no idea what I am talking about…) If you do, you will remember the cartoons where Doggie Daddy was always trying to teach his son, Augie Doggie a lesson. Crazy as it seems, they were spot on regarding how dogs want to learn and how they know what to do.
I am not saying that our dog training methods are based on a 1960’s cartoon show, it just so happens that the show mimics the proven methods we use to gain our great results. So what happened between Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy? It is really quite simple if you understand some simple facts…
NEVER TOO EARLY TO START. Although this is not pertinent for Annie, my client’s current dog, it is relevant if he gets a new puppy for Annie. It is important to understand that all animals start learning the moment they are born. This is true of us and it is true of our dogs. Although the lessons that our dogs may need to accomplish when they are a few weeks old are very different than the ones they may be learning when they are six months old, the learning process is still taking place.
The initial lessons normally consist of socialization and teaching your dog about the world around him, how to deal with “normal stuff”, and what things mean. This is equivalent of our learning how to hold those “fat pencils” in kindergarten and draw circles and lines on paper. We were getting “used to stuff”.
Behavior training normally coincides or directly follows this stage. Our dog needs to understand what is acceptable and not acceptable. Sitting next to us is acceptable but jumping on everyone is not acceptable.
Once we are familiar with the world around us and understand “the rules”, we continue to teach our dogs “things to do”. This is often referred to as “obedience exercises”. We teach them to come, sit, walk with us, etc.
As I mentioned earlier, it is never too early to start the process. We can’t push them into perfect leash walking at just a few weeks of age, but we can let them know that their bed is a safe place to sleep and the noise of the lawnmower in the front yard is of no danger to them.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY. All dogs learn by doing the same thing one way. I tell my clients that dogs learn through a “linear process”. Everything is A, then B, then C, then D. As long as the learning experience is exactly the same every time it is performed, your dog will have the ability to learn. It is like a set of instructions that you receive in the box of the “unassembled thing” you got in the mail. If you put it together by following the instructions to the letter from step one through the final step, all will be fine.
Dogs can follow the instructions perfectly because that is in their nature. We, on the other hand, never pick up the instructions and just start sticking things together. We may get the thing together and it may be fine. We may order another one of “those unassembled things” in the mail and put it together using an entirely different process with success. We can understand “just figure it out”. This is a completely foreign and unacceptable process for our dogs.
So, to be clear, we must always teach our dog using the same steps and processes every time. We must be consistent. He will quickly learn, and we will have a well-trained dog.
REPETITION IS IMPORTANT. Do you remember learning your “times tables”? “Five times five is twenty-five, five times six is thirty, five times seven is thirty-five…” Over and over again. We kept doing this and, all of a sudden, we knew our “times tables”. The same things that were initially almost impossible to complete (i.e seven times eight equals fifty-six) became intuitively obvious to us. If we were asked, “How do you know that the answer is fifty-six?”, we would normally reply, “Because I just know”. The repetition of practicing with the flip cards engrained the answer in our head.
This is the exact same way that all dogs learn. Although we don’t use “flip cards” with our dogs, performing the same act over and over with them engrains the process in their heads. This means that you need to practice your exercises every day. You can’t just do it once or twice a week and think that it is going to stick. It won’t.
TRAIN WHEN “IT FEELS GOOD”. I have never read any document that says you must train your dog in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, or at night. Training is an activity between you and your dog. Your dog must be rested, focused, and ready to learn. You must be rested, focused, and ready to teach. This helps you to create the environment where you can provide the appropriate stimulus to gain his attentive focus and willingness to take direction.
If your dog is not feeling well, overly tired, or overly stimulated, teaching is not a good idea. He is not ready to submit to your direction. If you are focused on other things such as a bad day at work, an argument you just had with your family member, or that “person” who cut you off on the highway coming home, you do not have the right mindset to be a good teacher. Wait until these things have passed.
RUSHING IS NOT WINNING. It is not written that you must be able to teach your dog to properly sit and stay in two days. Some dogs take longer than others to learn their exercises. Some people have more time to spend with their dogs to work on their lessons than others.
I used to have a sailboat. Sometimes the wind and current were with me and sometimes the wind was light, and the current was pulling me in the wrong direction. Although it took me a little longer in the second scenario, I would always reach my destination.
The same is true when teaching our dog. As long as we are teaching him in a manner that allows us to make progress towards our goal, all is fine.
BE WILLING “TO BACK UP”. This is a “follow-up” to the point I just made. As I said earlier, teaching your dog is not based on having everything done by a specific date and time. It is based on building the relationship and environment that allows your dog to successfully learn your lessons. To build on this point, sometimes successful learning requires retreating for a moment. Since you are often not sure how fast you should be teaching your dog, sometimes you go too fast. Your dog will show confusion. A perfect example of this can be seen when you are teaching your dog to stay. You have successfully had him sit, but you walk across the room and he is constantly following you.
The cause for this is that you have gone too far too fast. We would often encounter this in our learning experience when our teacher was trying to instruct us on a new math process and nobody in the class had the slightest idea what was going on. No matter what our teacher did, he could not “get traction” to have us learn. His “go to” resolution was to back up a few pages in the textbook to the last place “the class knew what was going on”, review that for a while, and slowly proceed again. As students, we knew that was about to happen the moment we heard our teacher say “Let’s review…”.
If you are in the middle of teaching your dog an exercise and he “just isn’t getting it”, don’t continue to push the current action. Back up a few steps in the process to an action he was successfully accomplishing. Reinforce that action and then slowly move forward.
Let’s look at the STAY command we just discussed to see how this would work. We had just finished having our dog sit and it was great. We then said STAY and walked across the room. Our dog followed, having no idea of what was going wrong. We can “back up” the exercise by having our dog successfully sit. We can practice this multiple times and eventually introduce the term STAY as we are still right next to him. We will probably see our dog remain seated and immobile (staying). We are now on the right track again.
Remember, repetition and consistency are critical when dog training. That is what is going to make it work!
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.