Training Tales - A Word on Training
by Tim Wheeler, LDDR volunteer
At Last Day Dog Rescue, we are committed to giving our animals the best kind of life. In the interest of promoting better human-animal relationships, we recommend positive training methods. Why is that? Mistakes and missteps happen, even with the best of intentions. The good news is, as long as there is a way to move forward, training new and better behaviors is always time well spent.
You might wonder which kinds of dogs might benefit most from training. The short answer is EVERY dog. To promote the concept of giving all dogs their best possible life, we are recommending focusing on some core behaviors that are worthwhile to train any dogs in your home, be they your own or foster animals. It is a sad reality that many pets will need to be re-homed through no fault of their own. Illness, loss of housing or livelihood can all mean hard times ahead for you and your canine friends. You can act now to help them make any future transition smoother.
If you are willing to learn and help your dogs to become proficient in the eight following core behaviors, they have a much better chance of finding new homes. Each core behavior can positively impact the quality of life for anyone who shares space with your pets. Training can begin as soon as your new friend arrives at your house.
Please note that giving voice commands is never recommended during the first several weeks after arriving at your home, otherwise called the decompression period. You can begin using voice commands after the dog has decompressed and the dog is consistently performing requested behaviors. It is critically important that everyone who interacts with your dogs respects your training efforts and agrees to use the same words as voice commands.
Speaking of words, if there was one word you could use to train your dog, one that helps with every aspect of teaching new behaviors, what would it be? It is likely a word you often use, "yes." When your dog does something right, you can use it as a marker with the meaning being "you made a good choice!" If you follow that marker up immediately with a positive reinforcer, your dog will begin to associate making choices we prefer to mean something fantastic will happen next. Of course, you could always use a clicker or another word as a marker, that is your option. The keys to success in establishing a marker are the consistency of sound and following that sound with a positive reinforcer, usually a yummy treat or possibly a toy or exercise. Once you have decided on a marker, your mission will be to get everyone who interacts with your dogs to reinforce good choices for your pups consistently.
Potty Training - maybe the most basic core behavior. Establish the appropriate place to eliminate or where to potty. When you arrive home with a new dog, plan to show them the area where they should eliminate immediately. If that is inside and temporary, that is fine. Adult dogs should learn where to go. Lead them directly to the area and let them sniff. When they go right away, great! Time to be excited and party! If they don't, plan on going out at least once per hour until they do. And then, you guessed it, time to party! You are on your way to having a well-trained dog!
Appropriate Play - when to say enough is enough! This behavior is a little trickier for humans to learn since dog play can quickly turn to aggression. Proper introductions and good body language are essential before allowing play to begin. If at any point play should turn into a one-side only interest, it is time to stop. Good play will include several ingredients, observations of loose body language, reciprocating chases, play bites without causing damage, and otherwise inhibiting or self-handicapping to avoid causing harm.
Crate Train Your Dogs - create a safe place for your dog to be alone. While not all dogs will respond well to crate training, crates can be an excellent training tool. Crates can also be used for stationing exercises, a space where good things happen, and they have positive choices. Getting your dog to understand that the crate is their safe-haven and place for alone time will be beneficial for you and your dogs. They are also a great idea for dogs who may need to stay in a separate place temporarily while becoming familiar with a new environment or to keep them out of trouble while you are away. The keys to successful training will be using proper introduction techniques for the crate and gradually increasing the time the dog is expected to remain inside.
Redirect Unwanted Behaviors - this is maybe the most essential behavior skill for the human to learn. Wait, the human needs to learn a core behavior? Yes, you do. You need to learn that your dog never feels guilty for their behavior. Dogs do what is easy for them or anything that has worked for them in the past. If they want to chew something inappropriate, or lunge and bark at humans or other dogs, it is YOUR job to redirect their attention and give them either something appropriate to chew on or something else to do. If you leave it up to your dogs to find things to do, you will not be happy with their choices. Make it a practice to keep safe items for them to chew on hand and yummy snacks available. It will prevent the majority of unwanted chewing or being 'mouthy" with humans. Teeth on the skin should NEVER be allowed to persist! Redirect or seek help right away! Barking and lunging at humans or other animals mean your dog is not sure what else to do; they are having a hard time. Create a safe space for them and redirect their attention with yummy treats, a favorite toy, or playtime.
Learn About Targeting and Stationing - set your dogs up for success by teaching and reinforcing learned behaviors. If your dog is comfortable with hands, you can try hand targeting, widely called "touch." If they are not trusting with hands, you can try using an object like a target stick or something else. The more portable the target is, the better. Closely related would be stationing; training your dog to go to a specific place or to assume a position. Think about when you have guests in your home, would you like your dog to learn polite greeting? Teaching them to go to a place away from the door will help keep everyone comfortable. A crate, a bed, or a rug are useful as part of learning how to station. Both targeting and stationing are helpful management tools because they can be used to redirect attention when needed.
Use Luring - begin teaching basic commands. Since most dogs eat and like food, luring is a perfectly acceptable way to start learning behaviors like 'sit,' 'down,' or 'stay.' It is critical that you are not using voice commands right away, especially during the decompression period. Hearing lots of humans saying words with different inflections, pitches, and loudness is very likely to cause stress for your new dog at a time when they should be relaxing or playing most of the time. Let your dogs learn these new behaviors by just following your hand gestures. It is optional to start luring by having the treat in your hand at first so that your dog may predict what happens if they follow your simple but consistent hand motions. The idea will be, over time, to 'fade the lure.’ Keep upping the criteria slowly to stimulate your dog mentally. Keep training sessions short, maybe a few repetitions and avoid continuing to train when either you or your dog becomes frustrated. If a step doesn't work, back up, make it easier! Lower the criteria and your dog will get it! You will also be learning about what motions dogs usually understand without verbal commands. Once the motions are recognizable, you can begin to give the behavior a name like sit or down. One of the great things about learning the hand signals first is, even if your dog becomes hearing impaired or becomes deaf, you will still have effective communication!
Walking Nicely on a Leash - this is something everyone wants from their dogs. It can also be one of the more difficult behaviors to train. Always keep in mind, racing ahead and pulling means it is way more stimulating for the dog to be out front and investigating its environment. The challenge is how you can compete with all this stimulation. What can you do to keep your dog interested in stationing near you as you walk? Have something so amazing and fantastic to eat that your dog decides the best place to be is right next to you. You don't have to worry, it will not make your dog fat to train with food. Whatever gets eaten can be subtracted from the very next meal. This stationing behavior can be taught by redirecting the dogs' attention back to you and then proceeding on the walk to reinforce the desired position. Remember, having your dog at the end of and pulling on the leash means trouble ahead. Avoid letting your dog feel like a tight leash is normal, and you begin to understand why loose leash walking is the best choice and an excellent idea for both of you to stay safe.
Training Polite Greetings - redirect and curb that excess energy! There are lots of ideas about why dogs jump up when they greet other dogs or humans. Regardless of the real reasons, it is generally not considered polite when children or anyone with mobility issues meets a dog, and the dog is jumping all over them. Until your dog can learn to remain calm or sit during greetings, we would recommend the supervised use of leashes, even indoors. If your dog is having trouble staying calm, let their behavior guide your training efforts. When your dog can't remain seated or be still, it is time to create distance from whatever is causing this reaction. Back off and maybe toss treats from a short distance. Your dog will learn that the way to get attention is to be calm and even wait in one place to get what they want, your undivided attention and love!
Learning the recommended behaviors will not always be easy. Your attention, time, and the cooperation of those who live with you are necessary and required for successful outcomes. Will you need help to get the job done? We all need help sometimes, and there are lots of great trainers out there who know how to train all of these essential behaviors. Maybe you are comfortable with starting on your own. The important thing is to begin the journey. When you need help, don't hesitate to contact one of our recommended trainers. If you are considering a trainer, be prepared to interview them and ask for a written training plan. Ask for credentials, just like you would for any professional service.
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