Training secrets by commando kennels

The concept of using food to train is often considered a form of bribery. The fact is that dogs adapt to whatever works best! If you know how to use food, your dog will offer the right behaviour to get it. Else you might end up with a dog who demands a treat or an assurance of one for everything you ask him to do. Here’s the right way to use food/treats to train your dog.

Is using treats good or bad? I would say it is good if you know how to use it. The idea being that you make it another tool in your armoury of training aids. Over dependence on any one tool is not good for training in any case. Just like us, dogs learn what is right and wrong from their experiences. Dog training involves encouraging the ‘right’ behaviour and discouraging the wrong/undesirable behaviour. This means there should be a substantial difference in what the dog experiences when he offers the right behaviour as compared to the wrong behaviour.

The positive reinforcement…

Traditional training methods involved giving strong corrections so that this difference would be clear to a dog. Using treats adds value to your praise, this makes the difference between desirable and undesirable behaviour clear to the dog without the use of excessive force. Using food to praise the dog when he does right reduces the need for strong corrections.

Of course, treats are the main tool in training with the positive reinforcement techniques. You lure and manipulate the dog to do what you want and then reward him at the right time. The key is timing; the dog needs to understand clearly exactly which behaviour you are marking (that is where a clicker is very handy). The key is that the behaviour should bring out the treat and not the other way around. Avoid luring your dog in to a command, except in the forming stage where you are teaching him the basics of what is ‘sit ‘ or a ‘down’. At other times the dog should just perform the command given, the treat should be like a bonus.

Treat vs. other tools…

One could argue that you could use a toy (ball/tug) instead of food. I agree, but for that you need an experienced trainer and a highly driven dog. For a new trainer and a distracted dog – food works best. Also with a toy, you need to first get the dog on to a toy, and then make him feel it is of such value that he will offer to do anything for it. The skills required for training with a toy are more complex too. You cannot use it to make a ‘sad’ dog ‘happy’ – you would end up rewarding ‘sad’ behaviour! Additionally, when you reward with a toy you are forced to break the behaviour the dog is offering (picture a dog running after his toy) as against food where the dog can continue offering the behaviour (dog is on stay, gets his treat and continues on stay). So, no matter what training method you use, if your dog is keen on food – use it. It will only make your job easier. The trick is to use it well.

Tips on how to use food in training…

  • Right timing: The dog should be hungry when you take him out. There is no sense in offering food or treats to a dog who is satiated before you get him out.
  • Love thy treat: The treat you offer should be of high worth to the dog. If your dog gets ‘biryani’ for all his meals, there is no way he’s going to be lured by ‘plain rice’. Few suggestions are – cheese, boiled egg white, premium food kibble, liver, steak, etc.
  • Treat size: When we offer treats to our dogs they should not be too big or too small. Too small will be insignificant for the dog, and the dog might not find it worth to offer behaviour for it. On the other hand, if the chunks are too big, the dog tends to spend too much time chewing on it. This stops you from keeping him on track and breaks the momentum.
  • The fun factor: When offering food, make it exciting for the dog. “What’ve I got,” “Yippee” or some other phrase that gets the dog going and then play a bit with the dog when you offer the food. Don’t just shove it into the dog’s mouth.

All the best and happy training!

(Philip A Butt is CEO of Commando Kennels – Hyderabad, India’s premier dog training kennel. He has pioneered many new dog sports and training techniques in India – Schutzhund, Flyball, Heel walk to music, Agility, French ring sports, to name a few. He is trained in “Arms explosive search dog training and Methods” at the United Kingdom Training Centre of Corporate Search Limited, Nottingham, UK. He also learnt techniques in positive reinforcement training at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. UK. As Joint Secretary of the Hyderabad Canine Club, he is an astute dog show organiser)

Dog Training

Training secrets by Commando Kennels

Two is better than one?

So you’ve decided to expand your family and get a dog. Wow great, but then you think- wait a minute, what if I get two? That would mean double the fun, double the excitement at almost the same cost – right? Wrong!

Why two?

Often prospective pet parents tend to believe that adopting two puppies would be better than having just one. With the busy schedules they have, they find it hard to give time to our dogs. The logical conclusion is that if there are two of them, they would miss them lesser in the day. Probably true, but this one solution creates a whole gamut of other problems.

Here are the top reasons why a pet parent would like to adopt two pups instead of one:

  • Company for the pups when pet parents are away at work or otherwise busy.
  • Since pet parents plan to have two dogs ultimately, they think it’s better to get two at once as the pups would grow to be best friends.
  • Breeder offers a discount on buying two puppies.
  • Social compulsions like neighbours have two dogs or two dogs would look so nice on your Facebook page!!

Two is not always better than one…

My advice to prospective pet parents is that raising two pups together is not a good idea. There are many reasons for the same. To understand why it’s a bad idea, we need to have a basic understanding of dog behaviour especially with regards to their pack drive. Dogs are essentially pack animals, as in you will find them moving, hunting and living in packs in the wild. By pack drive, I mean they are internally wired to fit into a social structure. Without going into too much detail, I would like to emphasise that the pack has a leader. When the dog enters our family, he needs to know where his position is in this pack. Believe me, almost all ‘dog biting pet parent’ cases would be avoided, if only the pet parent had taken little extra care to get this message across to his dominant dog.

What happens usually, when you get a puppy, is that the dog soon realises that he is in a new pack. He also identifies who is the leader of the pack and where is his position in the pack. He just picks it up from the way we interact with each other and the pup. However, when we get two pups at once, they tend to over bond, often to the extent of ignoring the human pack. While the single puppy looks at you for all its social need, the pair feed off each other. On the surface this may seem fine, but it leads to larger problems. Some of which could be:

  • Disciplining becomes an issue as they are always playful.
  • Training becomes difficult as you cannot get their focused attention.
  • Little or no bonding with the pet parent.
  • Dogs fight to establish rank in the pack.
  • Display of dominance to other dogs, family members and guests.
  • Separation anxiety related behaviour when the dogs are separated for a short time.

The behavioural problems…

The recessive one: You can imagine the plight of the recessive puppy, who is growing up with this bully of a sibling. He would have been so much better off in another family. He would have grown into an independent, well adjusted and happy adult. Instead he is left to be bullied for the rest of his life. This pup will never reach his potential as an individual.

The dominant one: It’s not too much better for the dominant pup. He lives in this false sense of security. His energy comes from the fact that he has this push over sibling around. Such dogs show extreme anxiety when alone. They also show aggression towards other dogs.

The facts…

More pups, more time: As for the ‘logical’ reasons for buying two puppies – If you are too busy to rear one pup, rearing two will need more of your time and not less…more potty training, more socialisation, more walks, more play, more tired pet parent!

Friends: you or someone else: Yes, your dog will have a ‘best friend’, but wouldn’t you prefer that best friend to be you?

Sale…he’s not a product, he’s a life: If a breeder offers two pups, I would advise you look somewhere else. No responsible breeder would suggest two pups for the same household. As for the cost, you might save a bit on the puppy, but double everything else – vaccinations, training charges, kennels, travel, boarding, accessories, the list goes on…

Don’t adopt for social compulsion: You are obviously getting a dog for the wrong reasons. Such pet parents usually end up with dogs in the garages and not in their homes. The only difference for them would be that they would be ruining two lives instead of one. Forget two, I would not recommend even one dog!

Rearing two puppies together…

However, if you feel confident, two puppies together is still an option you can consider, provided you bring them up responsibly and follow some rules:

  • Crate/kennel them separately.
  • Take them out for walks separately.
  • Define and assign their together time with structured play.
  • Lots of ‘only human’ interactions.
  • Train separately.

The operative word is ‘separately’. The purpose being, you want them to bond with you more than they bond with each other. You want them to grow individually into confident fully bloomed individuals away from the influence of the other.

Goes without saying that it is going to be lot more effort. Do you want to put yourself through this? It takes a lot of time, commitment and effort to raise two pups together. If you decide to get just one, you will soon realise that it is a lot of fun. Happy rearing!

(Philip A Butt is CEO of Commando Kennels – Hyderabad, India’s premier dog training kennel. He has pioneered many new dog sports and training techniques in India – Schutzhund, Flyball, Heel Walk to Music, Agility, French Ring Sports, to name a few. He is trained in ‘Arms explosive search dog training and methods’ at the United Kingdom Training Centre of Corporate Search Limited, Nottingham, UK. He also learnt techniques in positive reinforcement training at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, UK. As Joint Secretary of the Hyderabad Canine Club, he is an astute dog show organiser).