When it comes to dog training, it is imperative that the handler understand how a dog learns first. This makes the exercise more productive and fun.
Whether training a Dutch Shepherd in narcotic detection or a Shih Tzu how to sit, one must understand how the dog is learning before any lesson can be taught. It makes the training process much more comfortable and increasingly more enjoyable for both if the handler understands a few concepts before entering the first lesson.
People frequently ask why police dogs are much more highly trained than a typical pet. Police dogs are carefully selected, with very few making it through the strict demands. Once through the selection process, the training is intense, consistent, and time-consuming. The duration of the training depends on the particular job assigned to the animal. They are always training, and the behaviors are so reinforced that they become second nature to the dog. All dogs, whether police or pet, learn similarly.
Recognizing the Animal on Two Levels Is Critical
Understand the Breed of the Dog and That Particular Dog’s Needs
Through selective breeding, humans have sped up the evolution process on most kinds of dog to achieve desired traits. I have always tried not to stereotype breeds because there are still exceptions, however, the breed can often predict some features.
For example, Belgian Malinois, or “mals” as most police canine handlers refer to them, have been bred to be working dogs. The breed seems to have working traits coursing through their veins. I have seen six-week-old pups with incredible courage, prey drive, and hunt drive, along with a seemingly natural purpose for protection. Keep these breed-specific traits in mind when training begins. Mal has a strong desire to work for their pack. They prefer to understand their purpose in the pack and to perform their assigned tasks to make the pack better. A “toy” breed frequently does not have the same motivating factors. They tend to enjoy being catered to more than the working breeds. Understand the motivating factors of the breed of dog you are training.
Understand the Personality of the Individual Dog
Similar to humans, all dogs are different. They all have specific personalities and traits that make them unique and special. They also develop these personalities at different times. For example, I had a German Shepherd dog who was the biggest baby on the planet. He loved everyone and showed immense affection to anyone that he came into contact with.
As he matured, he realized that his mere presence sometimes brought fear into different species. He progressively realized that when he displayed specific behavior the fear intensified and he would use this to his advantage. By one-year-old, he became a sort of a bully, using his new found confidence to achieve the desired response.
Each dog is motivated by different means. Some will “work” just for praise, while others prefer food and others want that particular toy. By understanding their specific personalities, one can also determine the best methods of payment for desired response and correction.
Dogs have excellent memories, but for the most part, they live in the moment. Over the years, the overwhelming method of correcting potty training mistakes has been incorrect. My family and friends would come home to find a pile of dog poop in the living room. They automatically yell at the dog and force his/her head over the mistake of telling them how wrong they have been.
Dogs live in the moment. In the dog’s mind, they have missed their pack while away and are excited to see their family return only to have their master drag them across the room and shove their head near their potty. How confusing is this? They don’t relate the correction to the mistake. This is a frequent example of negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement, if used correctly, can be much more rewarding for the entire pack. This is not to be confused with the philosophy never to use negative reinforcement, but to use it sparingly.
Another frequent example of a mistake is when teaching a young dog to come when commanded. The dog will be running across the yard, and the handler will control them to “come” or “here.” The dog keeps running. The command gets louder. The dog runs further. The command grows more emphatic and frustration appears.
Don’t fault the dog for not running to the master when it is blatantly apparent that the master is mad and screaming! Dogs are usually smarter than they are credited. Instead of yelling and snapping because the dog won’t come, try getting excited and loving when they do! This is positive reinforcement. When you tell a dog to sit, and they don’t, most people correct them by raising their voice and shoving the dog’s rear down. Instead, keep repeating the command and when the dog complies. Become overjoyed yelling wonderful praise. It is amazing how much more a dog will want to please you once they realize what is expected of them.
Humans expect good behavior, and they project this expectation on an animal that doesn’t understand that particular theory. Let the dog know when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. When walking a dog, people walk and don’t communicate with the dog until the dog does something that the handler does not want them to do. They pad until the dog reaches the end of the leash and then the controller yells for them to heel. The human knows what they want and expect that particular behavior. Sometimes that desired behavior isn’t exactly clear to the dog. When you are walking the dog, and the dog is heeling perfectly, praise them. Let them know that they are doing what is expected and it is appreciated. You will see the dog displaying the desired behavior more often in an attempt to please their pack leader.
Lastly, learn to “win the lottery!” Imagine your reaction if you were to win the lottery. More than likely, you would be jumping up and down, thrilled, smiling, and yelling in excitement.
The pitching your voice will rise and everyone around you would know that you were happy. The next time your dog does what you ask, show that identical reaction. No matter how simple the command. You will immediately see your dog’s eyes light up and immediately realize that the pack leader is thrilled with their behavior. They will usually repeat the behavior. It is amazing to see how much harder the dog will work to please you, once they realize how happy you are with them.