Training Your Dog
Contributed by Cheryl Minnier - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dogs learn differently than people. They are amoral, that is they do not operate on the principal of right or wrong. They operate on a stimulus-response principal. If an action produces a pleasant response, the action will be repeated. If an unpleasant response is elicited, the behavior will be avoided (if the response is stronger than the initial reason for the behavior). For instance, if a dog is corrected for trying to mount a bitch in season, he probably will not stop because the drive that prompted this behavior is extremely strong. If, however, a dog is corrected for chewing on the leg of a table and is able to satisfy his need to chew with another object, then he will probably leave the table leg alone. In order to teach the dog the behaviors you want or don't want, you need to provide a pleasant stimulus (i.e. praise or food) when he does something right and provide an unpleasant stimulus (i.e. a stern NO or a quick jerk on the collar) when he does something you don't want.
Timing is everything in dog training! If you see the dog misbehaving and wait 10 minutes before correcting him, the dog will assume he is being corrected for whatever he was doing immediately before you corrected him. If this was laying quietly at your feet, you have just made a grave mistake! IF YOU CANNOT CORRECT THE DOG INSTANTANEOUSLY, YOU CAN ONLY CORRECT YOURSELF FOR MISSING AN OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH YOUR DOG THE RIGHT BEHAVIOR! Chalk it up to experience and try to catch the culprit in the act next time. For example, if you come home to find your favorite shoes in tatters and the dog sleeping comfortably on the couch and you begin screaming at the dog, he will associate your coming home with a reprimand. That you are upset about the shoe will not enter his mind, even if you hold the shoe in front of his face and shake it. He will probably be so nervous the next time you leave that destructive behavior is a certainty. His sheepish look when you return is not a sign that he "knows he did wrong" it is a learned response. This is a good reason to crate the dog when you cannot be with him until he has learned what is acceptable It is unfair to assume that dogs know the rules and then correct them when they misbehave. Make sure you have taught them what is expected before they have a chance to mess up!
The same principle of timing applies to praise. If the dog is doing something right, praise him instantly. If you wait until he stops, you are praising him for stopping. For instance, if your dog sits when strangers come to the door and you wait until he gets up to walk away to praise him, you have taught him to walk away! The only way to teach a dog is to reward the behavior you want and correct the behavior you don't- when it is happening. If you doubt your ability to teach or a dogs ability to learn simply pick up his food bowl, he has learned to come right away; or sit down to watch TV-if your dog comes over to be petted, you have taught him this. We are always teaching something, we just need to learn to make sure it is what we intend to teach.
Another very important principal in dog training is tone of voice. A correction should be given with a growl in your voice not by screaming or with a normal tone of voice. Sound ferocious! Praise should be given in an upbeat, happy voice. It should instantly get the dogs attention and make his tail start wagging. If you don't get this response, practice until you do. You also need to be consistent with commands. Saying "sit" one time and "sit down" the next will only confuse the dog. Pick one word and stick with it. Keep commands short and do not repeat them over and over. The most common mistake the novice will make is to look at the dog and plead "sit, sit, sittttt pleaseee."
Using the principles of stimulus response, many common behavioral problems can be solved. Some examples are:
Allowing a dog to have his own way is cruel to the dog. Being alpha is a tough job and a lot of work for him, he'd probably rather not have to do this. You are not doing him any favors by being overly permissive. He will only have to be corrected more sternly to break him of the habits you have allowed him to develop. If you want to be kind, teach him to be a well behaved member of the family as quickly as possible.
Don't confuse permissiveness with affection. All dogs need large doses of love and affection.
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