A well-trained pooch is a delight to be with. Here are a few basic training tips to help you in achieving your goal.
Socialisation: It is important but do not wait till your pup’s immunisation schedule is complete but begin once he settles down in your home by carrying him around to meet other people. Once his immunisation schedule is complete, take him for walks to different places to meet other people and dogs as well.
Listen to your dog: If your dog appears to be uncomfortable meeting another dog, animal or human, do not force him to say ‘Hello’. He is telling you that he is not comfortable in the given situation, you should respect that and not force him to comply. Forcing the issue can result in bigger issues down the line, where a nervous dog can turn aggressive on you. At the same time, one must not reinforce fear in their dog by trying to comfort him.
Be consistent: Whenever you are training your dog, it is important to get as many family members involved as possible so everyone is on the same page as you are. If you are telling your dog ‘Off’ when he jumps on the couch and someone else is saying ‘Down’, while someone else is letting him sit on the couch, how is your dog ever going to learn what you want? Consistency is the key to success in training.
Freedom: Let your dog gradually earn freedom throughout your home. A common mistake that most pet parents make is giving their puppy way too much freedom too soon. This can easily lead to toilet training setbacks and destructive chewing. So, close off doors to unoccupied rooms and use baby gates to section off parts of the house, if necessary. One way of achieving sure shot success is to crate train your puppy. Crate training is not just an asset where toilet training is concerned but also plays the role of being a safe den where you can leave him knowing that he is safe and secure when you cannot supervise him.
Tell him what you want him to do: There is nothing wrong with you telling your dog ‘No’, except that you are not giving him enough information. Instead of telling your dog ‘No’ all the time, tell him what you want to do. In other words, ignore unwanted behaviour and praise him when he does the right thing repeatedly, once you have taught him. For instance, if your dog jumps on you as a way of greeting, rather than saying ‘No’, give him a command like ‘Sit’ which helps avoid confusion.
Bribery vs reward: The idea of using treats is most often equated to bribery. If using a treat gets your dog to do what you want out of him, then why not? You can also use the world around you as reinforcement. Every interaction that you have with your dog is a learning opportunity, so when you think about it, you probably don’t use food very often except during training sessions and wean it off in a systematic way. The key to using food treats in a successful way is to make sure that the primary treat must be your voice and touch and the secondary one must be your treat. Just remember that the behaviour should produce the treat, the treat should not produce the behaviour.
Positive reinforcement training techniques: It is not just about giving treats for good behaviour, but it is also about performing movement and exercises in such a way that makes it fun. It is also about using everything that your dog likes or wants to your advantage such as treats, praise, toys, attention, etc. If you have hired a trainer to help you out in the training process, who does not let you tag along for the training sessions and your dog fears him, then it is best that you find yourself another trainer that your dog not only finds a joy to train with but also welcomes him home.
Tire your dog out: Most pet parents do not exercise their dog enough. Pent up energy only intensifies any anxiety a dog may feel, making him more destructive at home in the absence of his pet parent. Depending on your dog’s breed and age, most of them need three walks a day totaling up to an hour each day. Also include games of fetch on a daily basis in addition to his walks.
Negative reinforcement or punishment techniques: Negative reinforcement breeds fear. It makes your dog afraid of you and others. Fear causes aggression and unpredictable behaviour. When a nervous dog learns to bite, he is doing so to protect himself and therefore the bite will be a lot worse.
Have realistic expectations: Changing behaviour takes time. You need to have realistic expectations about your dog’s behaviour as well as how long it will take to change a particular behaviour that you do not like. Often behaviours which are ‘Normal’ doggie behaviours will take the most time such as barking, digging, jumping, etc. You also need to consider how long your dog has been able to practise a particular unwanted behaviour before you have decided to change it. For example, if you did not mind it when your dog jumped to say ‘Hi’ to people for the past couple of years and now you decide that you do not want him to do it anymore, that behaviour will take a longer time to undo than if you had addressed it when he was a puppy. Remember it is never too late to change an unwanted behaviour in your dog, some will just take longer than the others.
(Malaika Fernandes is a certified canine behaviourist and trainer trained at Nothern Centre of Behaviour, UK. She runs Walk Romeo offering training, behaviour modification, grooming and pet sitting services for canines in Mumbai.)