Don’t forget to laugh. It doesn’t seem like it’s necessary to say when speaking of dogs. They’re hilarious. But all too often people forget to have fun with training. Teaching your dog to give you 5 or roll over usually provokes some chuckles. But with behaviors people believe their dog should know like sitting or laying down people often forget to enjoy the experience. They may begin to get angry when their dog doesn’t seem to want to listen, or repeat sit over and over again until they start to sound frustrated. As the puppy gets older people get less and less forgiving.
First of all, keep in mind that really ingraining any verbal commands into your dogs’ mind takes a lot longer than you think. Just because your dog has learned to sit, doesn’t necessarily means he knows what “sit” means in many contexts. The process is behavior acquisition, fluency, generalization, and maintenance. Acquisition is teaching him the motions. Fluency is getting him to understand the meaning of the word, starting to eliminate the lure of treats. Generalization is the point that most people miss. Your dog has to be able to perform those behaviors in a variety of settings with higher and higher difficulty. Maintenance - if you don't use it you lose it.
Second, remember that dogs are non-verbal communicators. None of this is natural to your dog. Don’t get mad at them. They can’t understand why. The more you talk the more confusing it gets. Use simple one word commands uncluttered by other words. Give the words time to sink in. Let the dog think it out rather than repeat sit, sit, sit, SIT. Just say sit nice and clear. If the dog does not sit, he does not get the cookie, if he does sit he does get the cookie. He should be allowed to make that choice. Training is much more powerful when the dog realizes he is the operator.
Third, remember it’s not so much what you’re saying as how you’re saying it. Couple your commands with an inflection and tone, and body language and eye contact that really drive the message home. Come up with a reward hierarchy. Treats should definitely be used in your training, but ball, tug toys, jumping around with you, running with you, wrestling, and Powerfully Positive Pitch, are all terrific rewards. you can match the level of your reward from the hierarchy to the level of behavior exhibited. This will ideally get the dog working harder for better rewards.
Fourth, have patience! You need to have fun with this. Teaching anybody anything takes a little while, especially something alien to your makeup. Go for repetitions, not big leaps. In the gym you wouldn't try to go from 75 lbs to 100 lbs in one day. You come back to the gym repetitively working on form, muscle memory, and strength. You rise up to the next level in increments. So it goes with dog training.
Here’s a tip for a fun trick. Find something funny your dog naturally does and begin to couple its appearance with a command and praise. Eventually you can teach your dog some really nifty party tricks. For example my friends' dog can “buck the bronco” which he learned to do after jumping around to chase his tail. Now every time he gets the command he wildly chases his tail, but it looks like he’s a bucking bronco. It’s incredible.
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