Friday, May 9, 2008

Training your dogs

Training Your Dog with Kindness and Patience: Part I

By: Katie Busenkell

The idea of training a dog can be daunting. I know from personal experience. I have a boonie dog that is about 3-4 years old. I have never met a dog with so much energy. He doesn’t walk – he bounds, literally jumping 2 feet into the air. He doesn’t walk – he runs like a thoroughbred.

On more than one occasion, his high energy levels have gotten us (him and me) into uncomfortable situations with others.

A naughty, misbehaving dog is a nuisance. Nobody, including myself at times, liked my dog. In an attempt to find a solution to his bad behavior, I did some research on dog training. I read books on dog training, spoke with dog trainers and veterinarians, and perused various websites.

Most, if not all of the sources, had one thing in common – it wasn’t just the dog that had to change his behavior. I had to change my behavior, my way of dealing with him, if we (my dog and me) were to succeed at transforming him from a naughty, mischievous dog into an obedient dog.

I cannot possibly summarize all that I have picked-up along the way into one article. So, I have decided to summarize and publish one approach to dog training into a three part series[1]. Using the methods summarized below, my dog has learned a series of simple commands over the last 2-3 months. These commands include, “sit,” “lie,” “come,” and best of all, “stay.”

I challenge you try these methods at home with your dog. Just remember, be patient and kind. It takes time, but in the end, it pays off!

LESSON ONE:

EASY: It’s important that your dog know when to calm down. So the first command is “easy.” This is a relaxing command. Introduce the command to your dog when he is calm. Then, gradually try it in more challenging situations.

While saying the word, pet your dog slowly from his neck down the back. This movement, long calm strokes down the back, mimics the calming gestures of a mother dog. So, while gently stroking your dog’s back, repeat the words “easy” and “good dog” in a soft gentle voice.

You should find that your dog starts to breathe a little easier and that he is relaxed. DO NOT let your dog lie down.

Once your dog has become relaxed, stop petting your dog. However, you want to keep chanting the words “easy” and “good dog.”

ORIENTING RESPONSE: An orienting response is a non-threatening sound or move that has a startling effect on your dog. You do not want to scare the dog. Rather, you want to grab the dog’s attention.

Do not use the words “No” or “Stop.” Those should be reserved for another command.

Once you have gotten your dog’s attention again, and you have him sitting or standing next to you, start petting him again and chanting “easy” and “good dog.”

After several days, you’ll notice that by chanting “easy” and “good dog” you will be able to stop petting your dog and he will be sit quietly as you are chanting.

Be prepared in the beginning to use the “orienting response” often. Training a dog takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged. Just remind yourself that it will take some dogs longer than others to decode the human language.

RELEASE: The only time your dog should come out of his relaxed state is when you say so. To let him know it is okay to move about freely, use a hearty “OKAY!”

Provide your dog with numerous sessions with the “easy” and “okay” exercises so your dog can learn the difference between the two. You don’t want your dog to confuse “easy” with “sit.” Rather, you want your dog to learn that “easy” means, “move about freely, but calmly and be sure to pay attention to me.”

LESSON TWO:

Teaching a dog to sit, stay, and heel makes the dog a better companion. These commands establish control over your pet and serve as a constant reminder of who is the top dog.

SIT: You can best teach the “sit” command by a smooth, steady lift of the leash, saying the word “sit” and immediately releasing the tension as soon as your dog sits. If the dog resists, give a light tap on the dog’s rump. Don’t push the rump down. Pushing the rump down creates a natural counter-pressure that you can easily misinterpret as defiance. So, gently and slightly tap the dog’s rump. This should give him the message of what you want him to do.

STAY: With your dog sitting, hold the leash straight up with just enough tension in the leash to create counter-pressure. This allows you to use positive reinforcement (praise) as your dog is staying in position. Gradually reduce the counter-pressure as your dog begins to understand the stay. Naturally, praise the dog as soon as your dog complies.

HEEL: The objective of “heeling” is to keep your dog by your side where you have more control of him. Use gentle, but short, snaps of the leash to bring your dog into the heeling position. Again, the key to getting your dog to understand the word “heel” is to repeat yourself over and over again.

Be sure to praise your dog when he is in the right “heel” position. Maintain your pace no matter how hard your dog tries to distract you from the “heel” exercise. Change the pace once in awhile by slowing down and saying “heel easy” or doing a quick paced walk and saying “heel.” Then, add turns. Your dog will start to read your body language and stay in the “heel” position regardless of where you are going or how fast or slow you are moving.

Occasionally, release your dog from the heel position so he can learn the difference between “heel” and a freer walking exercise.

Try these commands, and next month there will be more progressive lessons on dog training. In the interim, if you are interested in learning more about dog training methods and/or dog behavior, I highly suggest you read the following books:

Dog Training in 10 Minutes by Carol Lea Benjamin.

The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions by Stanley Coren.

How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren.

For a comical read on naughty dogs and the dog-human bond, I highly suggest:

1. Marley & Me by John Grogan.



[1] The dog training methods were obtained in full from The Gentle EasyKind Way: Behavioral Training Methods. By Carl A. Koski.

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