A lot of people think that training differs for small vs. big dogs but this has not been my experience. I think habits differ from small to big dogs. For example, I remember our trainer mentioning that it was a little easier to get a small dog to roll over than a big dog because it’s a bit more work for a big dog to move his/her whole body; but the training technique for both was exactly the same.
Some people believe that they need to prove they are the “alpha” in the relationship with their dogs to ensure the dog always remembers who is “master.” This can be towards small or large dogs, but the thinking is the same: “don’t let the dog have the control; he/she must know that the master/owner is in charge and has the control.”
With the old-school type of training, the master can control his/her dog to do the desired behavior largely from instilling a sense of fear response in the dog (“my master won’t be happy if I don’t do this; I may get a yank on my collar if I don’t do this; I could get yelled at if I don’t do this….”). And the dog does the behavior. These dogs are trained to follow commands beautifully, gracefully and easily. But I don’t think the dogs are really happy. And if our favourite furry companion brings us so much joy, shouldn’t we be striving to do the same for them?
From everything I’ve read and researched, the “alpha”/master/control type of training seems to be an old-school style of training. The new school of thought is to create a relationship with your dog that makes your dog want to do what you ask him/her. I am all about individualizing treatment according to my individual patient needs, so I love the thought of individualizing my training for my dog’s needs.
And that is what I do. I know that Caesar understands my desire for him to learn new things and I understand his desire for the rewards! We also both thoroughly enjoy the time spent together for this training, so it’s a win-win situation!
I must point out that the positive-reinforcement-conditioning (gentler training, shall we say?) takes more time. It requires more patience, and doesn’t result in the almost-immediate results of aversive-conditioning (yanking on leash, shock collars, sprays, etc.). But I believe that it does produce a stronger bond with your dog and happier dog overall. I think most of us don’t need to have a dog in our lives, we WANT to have one in our lives. So let’s take the responsibility to nurture the life we have brought into our homes.
Some of my Tips for Training:
1. Understand whether your dog is food or play/toy motivated. I think most dogs fall into the food motivated group, but I have heard of a few exceptions of dogs who are very fussy eaters and who enjoy playing with a new (or familiar) toy more than food offerings. If your dog is food-motivated, do look for a few different types of training treats that are easily carried in a pouch/bag, and try to keep the different treats separate so that smells are unique to each – remember that dogs use the sense of smell very well and will be motivated by being surprised with the reward offered for their work. Think about getting some smelly but healthy treats 🙂
2. Use small sizes of treats to progressively reinforce good behavior or attempts. Remember that treats count as part of a dog’s daily food intake so if you’re giving a meal-sized portion of treats through the day, you should be giving your dog one less meal per day. I have read that for a tea-cup sized dog, treats should be about the size of the head of a pin, while a Golden Retriever can handle something like a berry-sized treat. For Caesar we use tiny treats about the size of a pea (or less) each. I remember our trainer mentioning that for training a treat should be small enough for the dog to ingest immediately (melt-in-your-mouth treats like dried liver will be better than cookies that require crunching for this purpose). Of course, if the treat is small enough, you know that many dogs will just swallow the food in anticipation for the next treat! Why use such small treats? Clearly for weight and health purposes (a well-trained dog that is overweight and suffering from consequences that may result from this like joint pain or poor digestion will not make either the dog or doggy-parent happy). And the other reason for small treats is that your dog should be able to relate what he/she just did to get the treat. If the dog is chewing for 5 minutes after rolling over, he/she may think that sitting (the position that they got the treat in) is the reason they got a treat. The treat should not deter from the dog’s own mental connections between behavior and reward.
3. Make training sessions short!! Going to a dog-training class for one hour makes sense since much of the class is about educating the doggy-parents. But try to train a dog for an hour… this will likely result in frustration for the trainer and the dog. 5 to 10-minute sessions of training with your dog can keep you both happy and motivated to achieve results together.
4. Remember that you (doggy-parent) are learning about your dog just as your dog is learning about you. You will see what they’re excited to do, what they dislike doing, whether they talk back (as ours does to let us know his displeasure in doing a particular trick until he truly masters it), and you’ll get to know his/her energy levels which can tell you whether this is a good training time or not. If your dog is exhausted after a day out in hot weather it’s not likely the time to train him/her. Wait for your dog to be a bit more energetic to create a positive association with your training time. Similarly, your dog will know when your energy/mood is not at its best. You may be tired, you may have had a long workday or you may have just had an argument with a friend – your dog will know. Training in this time is not ideal for you or your dog. You will force your “positivity” towards the dog, but I’m convinced that dogs are extra-sensitive to human emotions (as many trainers and writers have discussed at length). You can’t fake a positive energy to a dog and your training time will likely make one or both of you frustrated. Use such a time to just bond peacefully with your dog. Who else can give you such an unconditional love and endless attention? Take some time to enjoy this unique gift. Your bonding time will only make your next training session even better.
5. Remember that different dogs learn at different speeds and in different styles (even from the same breed/litter). Try to understand your own dog’s unique abilities/skills and work to develop them. Some dogs learn fast – but this also means that you need to watch your own behavior very carefully since they are learning about you fast. Funny example: sometimes we stop Caesar from sniffing at every grassy location to mark it and try to limit him to certain “sniff-spots” only; of course, if he needs to have a bowel movement, we recognize the familiar crouch and let him continue with his business. Recently, he realized this loop-hole in our style and started to, let’s call it “fake-crouch” when he was just interested in sniffing and marking!! Well we caught on to him and now even bowel movements are limited to specific spots if at all possible – and Caesar is adapting wonderfully! If you’ve got a smarty-pants dog like we do, you’d better stay on your toes to keep up with him/her! So then it also follows that a slow-learning dog will also think less about what he/she can get away with. They will truly want to please their doggy-parents (this is a dog’s inherent nature) and we need to understand that wrong behavior from these dogs is likely not mischief but rather misunderstanding of rules. The best part about slower learners in my opinion, is that they are content to please their doggy-parents and have little desire for other sources of entertainment/amusement. Fast learners can be easily bored which can produce a host of other challenges!
6. Enjoy your training time! If you aren’t enjoying the process, neither will your dog and if this is the case, what’s the point?
“I’ve always said money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail.” — K. Friedman
One of my favourite authorities on positive training and bonding with dogs is Zak George. Do visit his youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/zakgeorge