Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Most Powerful Dog Training Tool: The Easiest Thing I Ever Taught My dog

Earlier we discussed how dogs learn. Dogs learn from a feedback to their actions. The feedback can come from us, other people, other animals or the environment. Based on this feedback, dogs form associations, which then control their future behavior under that circumstance.

There are three conditions feedback must meet in order for a dog to include it in his learning process.:
  • it needs to be immediate, for the dog to be able to form the correct association
  • it needs to be consistent
  • and it needs to be meaningful

This is what all the training methods, tricks and tools boil down to. This is also why it really makes no sense to scold your dog for something he's done an hour ago.

When I got Jasmine, she was my first puppy, and I have to say I had a very little idea what I was supposed to be doing. I started reading dog training books and trying out the things I learned. Some of them seemed to have worked better than others, particularly because Jasmine is a very smart dog.

The timing and consistency weren't that hard to figure out. Why were my attempts sometimes successful and sometimes not? Why, for example, she would always rush through the door first, regardless?

And then I saw the light. I have power over the door! I decide whether it opens or closes!

That day I taught Jasmine to wait nicely and let me out of the door first within half an hour. And that was all it took! We got ready to go for a walk. I started opening the door, and Jasmine was getting ready to make a break for it as usual. So I closed the door again. She sat with a puzzled look on her face. I waited for a bit, and reached for the handle. Again, she was about to dart out. And again the door didn't open.

It did take us half an hour to actually make it out of the house, but I led the way. Jasmine learned that letting me to go first was the only way for her to get through that door.

And I learned about the power of meaningful consequence.

While it really is that simple, it doesn't mean that it is easy. Because it is not always as easy to control the situation as in this case.

If you ever tried teaching your dog not to jump on people to greet them, you know what I mean. It's nearly impossible to get people to cooperate. Even though all they'd need to do is to ignore the dog when he's jumping on them and reward him by attention when he sits nicely, I find that they always seem to do the opposite. And your dog is learning that jumping on people is the thing to do.

However, if you can come up with a meaningful consequence for your dog's actions, you can achieve anything.

Happy training!

If you have a success story, please share it with us!
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  1. Ahhh great advice but can u please elaborye on the jumping bit... It's the one and only thing we struggle with.

  2. Hi Jenn, thank you for reading!

    What did you try so far?

    The idea is quite simple, though the execution might not be. Dogs do what works = what brings them something they wanted. If jumping on people gets them attention (any kind of attention), then they'll keep doing it. Usually it doesn't even matter whether the attention is positive or negative.

    So the trick here is to 'render jumping ineffective'. Ineffective means it doesn't get the dog anything remotely close to what he's after. No attention whatsoever, no touching, no talking, no scolding, not even looking at the dog. You might even just turn your back at him.

    Once he stops jumping or sits, then he needs to get his reward. When done consistently, this works quite quickly.

    Problem as I experienced is other people's cooperation. Because if they don't follow with this, it is not going to work.

    To me, getting the people to cooperate is the hardest part.

    Let me know what you've tried and where do you feel the biggest problem is.

  3. My puppy likes to remove my socks or slippers while still on my feet which hurts because he uses his teeth. I yelp, say "No" and walk away, and if he won't stop, leave him to go to another room. We do this several times until he stops; however, after a few hours or the next day, he does it again. I do not want to give him a treat when he stops because he might think that it's okay to do it and stops and gets rewarded, the he will keep doing it. What's a better technique to stop him from nipping on my foot to remove my sock or footwear? And yes, he swallows the sock when he gets hold of one that I accidentally drops in the laundry room, he probably finds it tasty so he tries to get one from my foot if he cannot find one from the floor :-)

  4. How smelly ARE your socks? LOL

    How much exercise does he get? Does he get a good long walk every day? Surprisingly enough exercise helps curbing all kinds of weird behaviors.

    Personally I would try re-direction. Have a rope toy handy and when he starts see if he'll switch to playing with/chewing on that. Praise and reward when he does.

    Does he try eating other things also, or the socks only?