Welcome to blog post # 1! I feel like we need to break a bottle of champagne over the computer…but then again, that sounds expensive…
You’re probably here because you googled “my dog is making me crazy”, or “what the hell am I going to do with this dog”, “what the EFF did I get myself into”, or even “if this damn thing wasn’t so cute…”
Don’t worry – I’m here to help. Most behavior issues can be managed quite easily. You just need the right tools for the job. One of my goals in creating this site is to provide you with these tools.
We’ll start by covering a few basics of dog training in this post. I consider this stuff to be the foundation that makes all dog training work. If you are looking for everything from teaching your dog to stop pooping in your favorite shoes to teaching the fancy behaviors that lead to the Big Blue Ribbons (or as I like to call them “The Sparklies”), this is where it all starts.
Get a nice cup of tea and put your feet up. (No, No…don’t look at that chewed shoe you are wearing…we’ll get to that…just ignore it right now…we learn best when we are relaxed).
Take a deep breath. Think of your happy place.
Oh! Make sure you have some really boring spreadsheet close at hand. There’s a lot of great training advice and pictures of dogs around here, so this might take a little longer than just your lunch break. I barely reply to my boss’s emails, and I’m much better with dogs than with people – you’ve got no chance that I can talk you out of getting caught here! At least make it look like you’re working…
PS: You might need something stronger than tea if “that damn thing” is under 2 years old…no judgments…this is a safe place. You’ve found your tribe (and we always have cookies).
Dog 101 – The 3 Basic Secrets All Dog Trainers Should Know
Secret 1: All Dog Trainers should have a basic understanding of why their dogs do what they do (when they do what they do-bee-do-bee-do).
The first one is really pretty simple and at the heart of all things behavior related. If you understand why Sir EatsMyShoes is doing those things that make you crazy, then your chances of getting him to do something that doesn’t make you crazy rise exponentially.
Dogs do what they do because they find reward in doing it.
Wait…go back and read that again…take a minute…let it settle in. Dog training really is as simple as understanding that one statement.
When I say this on the first night of my Dog 101 classes, about half of the class looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles. Surely it can’t be this simple?! They do it because they like to do it?!
The other half of the class didn’t hear it because their dogs were barking and lunging at their friends from the dog park sitting across the room…did I mention it’s a Week 1 topic?
When I say this in my advanced classes, half the class rolls up a newspaper, smacks themselves in the head with it, and then stops rewarding the unwanted behavior (for example, a crooked sit) and starts rewarding the desired behavior (a straight sit in heel position).
The other half didn’t hear me because they were talking about what color and how many ribbons Madam FluffyPants de Charma won this weekend.
To put it even more simply…
Dog training is about helping your dog understand that what you want them to do is more rewarding than what you don’t want them to do.
Secret 2: All Dog Trainers should have a clear understanding of what their dog finds rewarding.
You might be thinking, “Oh…I’m not falling for this ‘reward your dog’ crap! I’m not bribing my dog to get him to behave!” We’ll get to that, and those posts will be linked back here. For right now, just humor me. Let’s pretend that you believe that dogs aren’t robots, that they should be “paid” for the work that they do, and that rewarding a dog is not the same thing as bribing a dog. I am giving you a VERY BIG PROMISE that we will talk about this soon and I want your comments when the posts go up! (In fact, Blog Posts #2 – 5, and #8 will cover this little conversation).
On the other hand, you might be thinking, “Well now! That sounds Super Easy! I’ve got this dog training thing!” You might even run out to the local Shops-A-Lot and grab the largest box of Super Duper Doggy Yum Yums that you can find. You know, the box with the cute well-mannered dog sitting politely on the front panel.
PUT THOSE COOKIES BACK! (+1 if you recognize that line).
Take a deep breath…This might not be as easy as it sounds. It’s easy, just not THAT easy. Let me explain.
The power of a training reward is based on your dog’s opinion of value, not yours.
Let’s explore an example. You might go out and buy 2 dog toys. One cost $18, but you’re sure your new pup will love it. It looks durable and fun to play with and it has a relatively quiet squeaker. The other was $2 and you really only bought it because it was in the bargain bin next to the checkout.
Besides, they had one in his favorite color, even if it is kind of ugly.
As you’re leaving the store, you begin to pray that he won’t like the $2 toy. When you squeezed it to test the squeaker, the cashier and store manager frowned at you like you had just tortured and killed a very large and protected species of goose.
When you get home, proud as can be with your purchases, you present both toys to FluffyWaggyButt. Then, you try not to be completely depressed when he snatches the $2 toy and squeezes under the bed with it where he spends the next 2 seconds shredding it and the next 2 hours honking the squeaker over and over and over and over…
In this case, you valued durability while FluffyWaggyButt valued shreddability.
There are differences in value even among types of rewards. Take a look at the examples that 2 Bitches Train Dogs gives you below.
In order to effectively reward behaviors that we want our dogs to continue, we need to provide them with things they find rewarding – yummy treats, belly rubs, ear scratches, or even a toss of the tennis ball.
Would you work overtime if your boss paid you in stinky things you can roll in? Probably not, but FluffyWaggyButt might!
Secret 3: All Dog Trainers should have a plan – including a clear idea of what “success” looks like.
How are you and others, both inside and outside your household, going to stop rewarding those unwanted behaviors and start rewarding the desired ones? What do the desired behaviors look like?
Do you want Fru McGrew to stay in a sit when she meets visitors, or just keep all four paws on the ground?
When out for a walk should WoogyLittleSlobberFace walk beside you or in front of you? And if he walks beside you, should it be on the right or the left side?
This is where we start putting the more specialized tools in our Trainer’s Toolbox. If your dog jumps on visitors, you’ll need a plan for that. If your dog pulls like he’s running the Iditarod when you take him out for a leash walk, you’ll need a plan for that. If your dog snatches your socks and you can’t ever catch him, you’ll need a plan for that. If you just can’t get those polished competition performances that earn The Big Blue Sparklies, you’ll need a plan for that.
Your training plan might be as simple as “reward four feet on the floor instead of rewarding only two on the floor” or “reward only sits that are not crooked in heel position”. The point is not to create a notebook full of Training Plans, organized and color coded by topic, day of the week, and required training reward. That’s why we’re here! Let A Dog Trainer’s Life keep your training record here in these pages. Use them as a reference guide to help you solve your training and behavior challenges & please let us know if we’ve missed a training plan that you need!
Whenever you see that image above, you’ll know that I’m about to give you a summary of the blog post. If you’re limited for time (or if you hear your boss coming down the hall) you can always scroll down here for The Important Bits.
Dog training is about helping your dog understand that what you want them to do is more rewarding than what you don’t want them to do. In order to be a successful dog trainer, you need to know what your dog finds rewarding, and create a consistent plan that includes not only rewarding the behaviors that you like, but also includes NOT rewarding the behaviors that make you wonder why you ever got a dog in the first place.
The World Needs Your Input!
We’re all Dog Trainers here, and the best way to get better is to share ideas!
What are some of your dog’s favorite things? How can you use these as training rewards? Please post your thoughts below and let’s start a discussion!