Tag Archives for " training-examples "
A lot of my time is spent discussing how dogs should behave. Is barking good or bad or both? “How do I stop the bad barking, but still feel safe? After all, that’s why I got a dog in the first place,” is a frequent conundrum for dog owners. As a trainer, I’ve discovered that the gold standard for having a “trained” dog to have a dog that knows “sit,” “down,” and “stay.” These behaviors are considered “basic,” and most owners stop teaching new things once they’re learned. But…are these the things every dog should know? I think there is so much more. Here’s my list of what every dog should know:
Allowing a dog to own their own life is a difficult balance. Our modern world and pet laws make their world confining and regulated. They can never fully be free, the most loving thing we can give them is some flexibility.
Since skills are still the hallmark of a well behaved dog, here are my top 10 skills every dog should know:
What would you add to this list? Did I miss something every dog should know?
I received an email over the weekend asking if I teach “Basic Obedience” classes. In recent years, “basic” has come to slant more toward learned skills instead of learned behaviors. Traditionally, “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down” and “Heel,” were taught as first behaviors, and so became known as “Basic Obedience,” however, skills like “Settle on a Mat,” and “Watch me,” are much more useful in a variety of environments than the preprogrammed behaviors.
The current surge of positive reinforcement training concentrates on educating dogs to make correct choices instead having to wait for cues or commands from their human. Teaching this way also creates “environmental cues,” such as a knock at the front door means, “Go to your mat,” or the presence of food in the kitchen means, “Down,” which stops counter surfing. These are still the same behaviors, just in a different wrapping. The less visible behaviors include impulse control, the ability to self calm, and learning that being next to their human is the best place in the world.
What are my 5 Basic skills? For me, impulse control and self calming are high priorities. Here’s my list:
Of these, only “Recall / Come” is taught in a traditional “Basic” class. A lot of the behaviors on my list require some relationship building and trust. There is a fine balance between teaching a dog to think on their own and the dog learning when to turn to the human for direction, but this should be one of the first skills.
To quote Dr. Susan Friedman, psychology professor at Utah State:
Trust: What does it look like?
A useful way to operationalize trust is a level of certainty that interaction will result
in good outcomes and so interaction increases. Trusting animals use their behavior
to confidently approach, rather than escape, opportunities to interact with people.
They not only accept invitations to interact with their trainers, trusting animals
create interaction opportunities for their trainers as well.
The flip side would be rewritten as, “Trusting people use their behavior to confidently approach, rather than escape, opportunities to interact with dogs. They not only accept invitations to interact with their animals, trusting humans create interaction opportunities for their dogs as well.”
Dogs know “Safe” and “Unsafe.” The primary decision a dog owner has to make when they pursue “basic obedience” for their dog is which category they want to be in. After that, the skills needed to instruct the dog for proper behavior in various environments and under numerous conditions means imagining the dog behaving properly and creating a training plan. After creating the plan, it’s all about being consistent, communicating effectively, and building good habits.
Would you like your dog to down in the kitchen while you prepare food? Where in the kitchen? Does your dog need a little help finding that spot? Maybe a mat would help clarify where you’d like them to be. Can you work on this every time you’re in the kitchen? Maybe 3 or 4 times a day? Awesome! Put a little post-it note on the wall to remind you to take 30 seconds and reward the dog for going to the mat. Soon it will become a habit for both of you.
“Basic Obedience,” is really for both ends of the leash. Creating positive habits leads to less frustration from human expectations as well as canine confusion. Dog owners need tools to manage and teach, dogs need a framework to learn, communicate and explore. Within those confines, it doesn’t really matter if you’re teaching “Sit” or “Get me a tissue.” It’s the communication that happens during training that is the true basic skill.
So, what do you consider the 5 Basic Behaviors?
This week there have been a lot of conversations about rewards, timing of rewards, what types of rewards are effective, and how a lot of the answers to the above depend on how savvy the dog is. Intertwined in these conversations is always, “When can I stop using treats?” This question always vexes me. For those that use aversive training methods, no one ever asks, “When can I stop correcting and yanking?”
The real underlying question is, “When is my dog trained?” This question is really about expectations. “At what point can I get angry if my dog ‘knows’ a behavior but doesn’t comply?” I thought about this question as I sat in the Animal Hospital this week waiting for my dog. Shira had vomited all night, wasn’t eating and didn’t even run to the window when a cat appeared in the yard. She definitely wasn’t feeling well, so off we went to the Veterinarian. She hopped up on the scale when I asked, stayed there when I asked, hopped off when I asked, but didn’t sit when I went to the desk to sign us in. The dog next to us didn’t sit either. The difference between the two dogs was in what the owners did next.
Shira is 10 years old and knows how to sit. Her failure to sit on cue was communication, not obstinance. It turns out she has a rather bad urinary tract infection and upset tummy, certainly conditions that could make sitting uncomfortable. I simply looked at her and said “Okay,” which is my way of telling her I’d read her communication and nothing else was expected from her.
Unfortunately the same can not be said for the other owner. It was horrible to watch the butt pushing, leash yanking, body shoving and yelling from the woman with the other dog. The problem was, she expected her dog to sit, and when he didn’t, she got angry and embarrassed. It didn’t seem to matter that the dog was in a Vet’s office and obviously there for a reason. Or, maybe that was part of the reason. While no one in the office really cared whether her dog sat or not, there is a certain amount of perceived peer pressure to having a compliant dog, particularly around other dog owners.
So, at what point is your dog “trained?” For me, that point is when there is a 90% compliance to the cue under distracting conditions in any location. The problem with this definition is it takes a lot of time and effort to get there. Training your dog to sit with a 90% compliance rate in the home, yard and at class discounts a huge amount of other environments your dog may find themselves in. The Vet’s office is one, and one that they probably (or hopefully,) don’t visit very often. Even in familiar environments there can be novel changes. The squirrel across the street comes into my yard a few times a year. This means I only get a few training opportunities to work with squirrels, so I don’t expect perfection when the chattering, little, furry creature is in the tree.
Going back to the original question at hand, it’s time to save dogs and their owners a lot of angst, frustration and embarrassment. Your dog is never fully trained. There will be times when there will be a new environment or something the dog has never encountered that will be so stimulating your dog will blow you off. The point is not that the dog failed, but your actions in response to that failure. Getting frustrated with your dog bypasses a true learning moment for both of you. Is your dog telling you they are ill or injured? Or are they saying, “This is all new and I don’t know what to do!” If it’s the latter, seize the moment and teach. If you’re worried about peer pressure, there is nothing that screams “Good Dog Parent,” more than an attentive and thoughtful owner who works to make their dog more comfortable.