Last night while I was teaching an Intermediate Training Class one of my clients’ just blurted out a question: “How do you do that?” I had no idea what he was referring to and looked at him quizzically. I had been working a dog in class which was the same dog I had in class the week before. My client continued, “That dog was a mess last week and this week he is calm and obedient”.
I never really answered the question but I pondered it throughout the night. The next day I told my partner Lorry about the conversation and without thinking she answered the question, “You don’t confuse the dogs when you are training them so they learn from lesson to lesson”.
Training without Confusion:
Confusion arises when you are not consistent with your commands and the way in which you issue them to your dog. Do not say “down” one day and “lie down” another, this will confuse your dog. You will also confuse your dog if you allow him to pull you when walking in the neighborhood but demand him to heel correctly at your side during training. Do not allow your dog to pull you into class but demand him to heel during class. Do not yell commands one day and whisper commands another day. Do not prioritize commands and become sterner with certain commands over others.
Unlike writing or speaking, when communicating with human companions, when we try to use synonyms and not repeat words, dogs need consistency. For our canine friends, a new word is a new command. Think about a military drill sergeant, his command is always about face, not turn around or reverse.
Dogs cannot prioritize which commands are more important to you, nor can they show their immediate response to which one YOU think is more critical. In addition, the consistency in corrections is important also. Many handlers are harder on their dogs in a class environment and more lenient at home. The dog then associates the training field or class with harsh corrections and that is why we see the tail drop.
Consistency with your training equipment is equally important. You can’t put the training collar and leash on the dog only when he is behaving badly. Then your dog thinks you only require proper behavior at certain times and he can be wild or disobey when the collar is off.
Too often I hear clients say out loud, ‘I wish he would listen like this at home’. The reasoning behind this is because you have established clear rules of behavior in your obedience class or on your training field, but you have allowed grey areas to invade your practice time or training sessions at home.
You must always be one step ahead of your dog in every situation:
Consider what your dog is going to do and while you are considering his reaction, give him a pre-emptive command so he does what you want him to do. I tell all of my clients that before you open the door, get out of your car or step into a new situation, give your dog a job, tell him what you want him to do when the door opens or when you get out of the car or when you walk into a pet store. Whether it is a heel command, stay or come; give him a job and be one step ahead of him.
Anticipate his reaction to the situation; for example, he will bolt out of the door when you open it. Reading your dog’s mind should be like reading your spouse’s mind, you should know what the dog is going to do or how your dog is going to react.
Prepare for your dog’s reaction. That means: before you open the door have your dog’s collar and leash attached and be ready to correct for disobedience to your command. If you allow your dog to get away with disobedience at this point, he is going to know that he can disobey when (1) you are distracted and (2) when his training equipment is not on.
Proper Use of Training Equipment
When using any type of training equipment, it is important that your dog wears the equipment even when not training. Most people will put the collar and leash on their dog when training or when the dog is misbehaving. What you are teaching your dog is that when he is wearing the collar and leash, he must behave because it is only then that you make him behave or give him a correction for misbehavior. The dog then becomes ‘collar wise’ and when the collar is off; the dog either does not respond to your commands or misbehaves.
You must make a conscience effort in putting the training equipment on your dog every day and only removing it for bed time, your dog will change his behavior and his new ‘habit’ will be to respond to your commands. Your dog will realize that not only does he have to behave and obey when the collar is on but that he can also have fun and enjoy himself when the collar is on. This removes the confusion of the training equipment. It then stops being your dog’s torture device and becomes akin to a favorite necklace that you may wear daily; you don’t even realize you are wearing the necklace. Once your dog’s new training collar becomes his ‘favorite necklace’ you will find that the habit of responding to commands and being well mannered is your dog’s new habit.
I relate dog training to boot camp. In boot camp the need to make decisions and make choices is removed from the person’s mind. He is told when to eat, drink, and what to do. There is no confusion; the choice is made by the drill sergeant. That is what training should be to your dog, you tell him what to do, when to do it and for how long and your dog will never be confused as to having to make a decision. Once you remove the confusion from training your dog will relax and like following your lead and he will do so much better in training. Good Luck and Good Training.