It’s a simple fact of pet ownership: training a dog is a lifelong process. Whether he knows five commands or 50, desired behaviors must constantly and consistently be reinforced.
According to Best Friends professional trainers, offering patience and love are your best ways of communicating with your pet, but consistency and repetition are the keys to proper learning, and consequently, maintaining a happy household.
Repetition and more repetition
Dogs don’t come knowing what’s expected of them. “Many pet owners mistakenly think they’re going to bring home their dog and he’s just going to listen to everything he’s told the first time,” says Carlos Mendez, professional trainer at Best Friends Pet Resort in Duluth, GA. In fact, the mind of an adult dog may be comparable to a 9-month-old human child.
“Dogs need to be taught how to behave, and to learn how to associate words with the action required,” Mendez says. “The more you work with a dog, the better he will perform.”
Actions must be repeated over and over again, and verbal and non-verbal cues (hand signals) have to remain consistent. “Don’t be afraid to raise your level of expectations. If you always expect more and make him work harder, he’s going to be happier,” Mendez says.
Be on his level
A little time goes a long way when it comes to training, especially with puppies. Puppies have notoriously short attention spans, so keep your training sessions short. Experts say that two to three 10-minute sessions a day should suffice for young dogs. Look for signs of puppy losing interest. You want him to look forward and enjoy training time, not be bored by it.
As your pet gets older, you can slowly increase the time spent in a training session. However, notes Mendez, it’s very important to adjust your sessions to your individual dog. If you have a “dominant” dog who tries to control the session, don’t let him decide when it’s over.
It’s vital to be consistent with words and actions. Consistency helps Pooch learn the words and cues, and repetition helps him remember them. Verbal commands should be short and repeated the same way each time. “There’s no need to use full sentences with a dog, when a simple ‘Stay down’ will do,” Mendez coaches. Be sure everyone in the household uses the same terms, and don’t try teaching more than one command at a time.
Use rewards judiciously
Dogs should be rewarded only after successfully completing the desired action on the first command, Mendez says. If he’s rewarded on the third attempt, he’s being conditioned that he doesn’t have to listen the first time. “That could prove to be very dangerous,” Mendez warns. Be patient! It may take some time, but she will learn to associate the command with the action. Dogs learn from their successes.
Dogs also learn by associating what is being taught at that exact moment. In other words, don’t punish or reward “after the fact.”
While repeating the same lesson over and over may seem tedious to you, think of the alternative: a disobedient, even disruptive pet. “Dogs are happiest when they’re working with you, their alpha,” Mendez says. “They really just want to please you.”
Your local Best Friends professional trainers can help you make your pet happier, making you happier.