Tips and Thoughts
Regarding Dog Training
Q: What's the only thing two trainers can agree on?
A: The others are doing it wrong.
Two big problems owners sometimes have with their dogs is "leash aggression" and fear.
Because most dog aggression is fear based, even though it may not seem like it (the best defense is a good offense?), understanding the root of these problems is key. These two books by Patricia McConnell, while short, are excellent for understanding and helping with these problems. Click on the photos to find them on Amazon.
There are many, many youtube channels about dog training, but watch Ian Stone's Simpawtico videos and you'll see why he's one of the best.
When training your dog, pretend like he’s a 2 year old child who only understands Chinese, and the best way to get him to do something is to reward him with treats. So Keep this in mind when working with your dog: Your dog DOES NOT UNDERSTAND ENGLISH!
However, there is a universal language that your dog does understand: TONE of voice!
Tone of voice is critical. When calling your dog to you, don’t use a stern, deeper voice. Use a lilting higher pitched voice. Think about it--which person would you be more likely to come to, one calling you with a deep, stern voice, or one calling you with a happy voice? Tone of voice applies to all training, all the time--even with humans. Keep it in mind when interacting with all your friends, animal or human.
Speaking of “when training your dog”: There is what can be considered formal training when you are deliberately trying to teach your dog something. However everything you do with your dog is also training your dog--which many people don’t think about. So be thoughtful in how you interact with your dog even when you’re not formally “in training”--because you’re still training. Regardless of what you're doing YOU'RE ALWAYS TRAINING YOUR DOG.
Consistency in training is extremely important. Otherwise you confuse your dog and then wonder why she doesn’t seem to understand what you want. This also means not only you being consistent, but all family members need to be using the same training method and commands.
Going back to "the best way to get him to do something is to reward him with treats." Why do dogs do what they do? Because ultimately that's what they want to do. Our job is to make them want to, and the best way is by rewarding good behavior with food. A so-called "natural" method of dog training would have you train your dog simply through the dogs love and respect for you. If that works for you, great. But the quickest way is with food, coupled with praise in a positive tone.
The most common command is sit. The most common mistake with sit command is saying sit, sit, sit, sit over and over trying to get your dog to sit. But remember--your dog doesn’t understand English. By repeating any command over and over, you are teaching your dog to follow the command only after you repeat it over and over.
I see it all the time: People want their dog to lay down, and say “down” to the dog. Later when their dog jumps on someone, they say “down.” After the dog ignores that, later when they want the dog to lay down, they say “down” and the dog doesn’t obey. Wonder why! Consistency is very important because dogs don’t have the same reasoning ability as humans--although many people act as if they should.
By the way--a good command to teach your dog for when he jumps on someone is “off.” But don’t forget, dogs don’t understand English--you could train the dog to do the same thing with the word “gobbledeegook.” But by using the word “off” people won’t think you’re crazy.
An interesting sideline: Most police patrol dogs are trained in Eastern Europe, and respond to commands in that Eastern European language.
Now more about "off": Not only should you be consistent and specific with your command for "off,"but you should also give your dog something to do when you say off, and the perfect command is then "sit."
So dog starts to jump up, it's "off" followed by "sit," with the timing of both commands immediate and specific to the situation.
When rewarding your dog with a treat for doing something positive, give it to him within two seconds. After that the association between action and reward becomes greatly decreased as the time increases.
Having problems with your dog being food possessive or simply want to build a closer relationship with your dog? Feed your dog its dry dog food just from your open hand for several weeks. It’s time consuming but very effective in establishing a closer leader/follower relationship.
Speaking of building a leader/follower relationship with your dog, notice that I didn’t use the terms alpha/omega or dominant/submissive. New research has found that such concepts were erroneously arrived at through observation of wolves in zoo's, and while there sometimes are elements of dominance or submission in a dog’s personality, states of dominance or submission are usually more fluid and varied than originally thought. Also some dog behavior that used to be considered dominant is no longer thought of that way by up-to-date dog behaviorists.
Collars and harnesses:
1. Choke chains: Real simple--archaic and dangerous to a dogs trachea/larynx. Except with knowledgeable and very self-disciplined trainers (which most people aren’t), should be used under no circumstances. Interestingly, Ceasar Milan’s improved high riding choke collar is situated in a way that it exerts the MOST pressure on and danger to a dog’s larynx.
2. Prong/pinch collars: Much reviled by many dog people, and most dogs don’t need one. Furthermore, the majority of people who do use one probably don’t know how to use it correctly. It should NEVER be “pulled” on, but used by giving it a quick “snap.” However there are a few strong dogs with an extreme prey drive, ones that can’t be distracted even with steak or sausage, and with which other collars initially won’t have any effect.
3. Martingale collars: Good if you want more than a flat collar but don’t want to use a prong.
4. Head harnesses: Also controversial--some say for a difficult dog it’s the best thing since dog food. One dog trainer told me it’s not actually a training tool, while many other people think it’s great for training more difficult dogs. But if your dog continually acts like he hates it, don’t continue using it. And for sure--NEVER HARSHLY JERK A DOGS HEAD with a head harness. Not only is such jerking cruel, but you can hurt the dog’s neck as well as damage your relationship with him.
Personally I much prefer the Halti head harness (its name was recently changed to Holt--on Amazon it comes up under both names) because you don’t have to fit it so darn tight behind the dog’s head like you do with the Gentle Leader.
5.a. Body harnesses: Want your dog to pull? Use a standard body harness. I used to see a guy “walking” his Husky with a harness. It was like the dog was pulling a sled. We kept wondering how long the guy’s back was going to hold up. Don’t see him around anymore.
But think about it: What do sled dogs use to pull sleds? Harnesses!
5.b.For dogs that are difficult to train on leash walking without pulling, no pull harnesses can help. However many of them are built wrong by putting the main horizontal front strap across the middle of the chest and shoulders where it impinges on the shoulders/legs and actually cause harm to the dog.
Compare these two no-pull harnesses for which is better.
6. Flat collar: This is what is most often used, but if your dog pulls very hard or often, damage can still be done to the neck nerves and trachea/larynx. The same thing applies to the Martingale collars (and of course even more to the choke and prong collars).
If your dog sometimes pulls hard enough that it may cause neck injury, then a proper anti-pulling front attaching harness may stop some dogs from pulling and are worth a try, but they certainly don’t work for all dogs.
Of course the best remedy for getting your dog to stop pulling is consistent training, but some dogs certainly can make that a huge challenge. Even within the same type of breed different dogs can present dramatic differences in ease or difficulty of training.
Which training method?
Remember the old joke at the top? There are countless different schools and methods of dog training, running from the extremes of harsh training using choke chains and “alpha rolls” to the relatively new “positive only” approach in which some don’t even allow telling a dog to sit (you’re supposed to just wait for your dog to sit. Wonder how that works teaching a dog to roll over?). Some even go so far to say you shouldn’t reward a dog with treats--it should just want to do what you want because of your deep connection with the dog (also known as “natural” dog training).
Another newer approach is called “correction free” training. Question: Would you raise a child using no corrections? If not, why would you use this approach on a dog? If you would--good luck.
I have several things to say about all this:
1. If you can accomplish something by using a positive approach, that should always be used rather than a punishment. A prime example: Instead of kneeing your dog when he jumps up on you, train him to “sit” for a treat, gradually doing away with the treat.
2. No animal on this planet learns just by “positive” consequences (reinforcement). From the lowest animal to humans, we all learn from both positive and negative consequences. But when a positive reinforcement can be used, it will lead to a stronger bond between owner and dog than using punishment, and consequently better long term training effectiveness.
3. Which approach to training is best? The one you can practice most consistently while enhancing the bond between you and your dog. However consider the method used for the most well-trained dogs of all: Police patrol dogs. It’s hard to beat how well such dogs are trained, and these dogs usually live in a close happy relationship with their human partners. See: Raising The Perfect Dog: The Secrets of Law Enforcement K9 Trainers by Nicholas R White.
4. I’ve found the “purely positive” dog trainers to be not purely positive. Do they ever pull on a leash? Do they ever say “no” or “stop” to their dog in a stern voice? Like Confucius said--the key is moderation.
5. The purely positive school of training originated in B. F. Skinner’s experiments with chickens pecking for treats and rats in a box. How many people successfully raise their children based on that? Why would you use such an extreme to raise and train your dog? Again, like Confucius said--the key is moderation.
Dog Training Books
Probably the most famous dog trainer now is Cesar Milan, the “dog whisperer,” due to his show on the National Geographic channel (but the original dog whisperer before Cesar is Paul Owns). However most “dog behaviorists” and many trainers probably cringe at the mention of Cesar’s name. His methods are probably better than doing nothing with your dog, but there are better schools of training. For in-depth info on the controversy surrounding this supposed “dog whisperer,” see 4Paws University.
I found something amusing in one of his books: He said no one should have a dog if they couldn’t exercise it for 1 1/2 hours a day. This is typical of a lot of his advice--opinion often not backed up by much except his ego, good looks and celebrity. If everyone followed this advice, I think there would be very few pet dogs in America.
Another interesting thing about Cesar: After watching his show for several years, I came across the book “Good Owner, Great Dogs” by Brian Kilcommons, and it was like everything Cesar was preaching was based on this book from 1992. However I think this book, though slanted a little to much towards the harsh correction side, is better than Cesar’s books.
The old edition of “How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” by The Monks of New Skete used to be THE dog training book, but it had a lot of downright cruel and damaging advice, yet they ended up with a lot of well trained dogs. Fortunately the most recent edition is an improvement--it’s now one of the better books not of the “purely positive” school.
A good basic and balanced book is Victoria Stillwell’s
It's Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet
The current rage in dog training is all positive and/or clicker training. I’m not quit the believer in it as some are, but go to Amazon.com and search for “positive dog training” and you will find a host of highly reviewed books. I can’t help but wonder how many police patrol dog trainers use all positive and/or clicker training? Can somebody help me out with this?