Let’s start with synonyms: For humans, to train is to teach, educate, tutor, instruct, coach, etc. To train is a verb meaning to learn the skills necessary to do a job, or teach somebody such skills, especially through practical experience. When I teach a class or client, this definition applies.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
Dog's Eye View
This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
For a domestic animal, it is to teach an animal to behave in ways acceptable to people, especially by repetition or practice. The goals for establishing an introductory training program usually will include establishing a foundation for attention and impulse control. We use reward-based training as part of our foundation.
Nowhere in the definition does teaching include punishment. Punishment inhibits learning. If punishment is used as a primary “teaching tool,” you may get the behavior you want, but you also may cause fallout.
In the old days, we captured the dog’s attention with a jerk on the leash. If the dog did not respond the first time, we kept jerking the leash until he did. This type of training sets the dog up to beware of the collar and leash. It usually means constant jerking on the leash and tons of frustration from the person inflicting the jerks.
I’ve watched many people walking their dogs with random jerks on the leash to get the dog to stop pulling. Some dogs can learn to override this “annoyance” and do what they want in spite of “collar corrections."
Once the dog becomes desensitized to that correction, you’ve lost him as a student. If you sort out what is happening, you actually can find the reinforcer for pulling. The dog keeps the walk going. That is a high incentive to keep pulling. The walk keeps happening in spite of the “corrections.”
With reward-based training, we teach the dog a desirable behavior and make it worth his while. Attention to us earns praise and reward. With the dogs attention on us, we are in a position to teach a new behavior. We teach what we want the dog to know. We reinforce that behavior with praise and something that he likes. Food rewards are a great way to jump start training. We can begin to replace food rewards with other things the dog likes such as a game of tug, fetching a ball, access to special toys and other activities.
I actually like to teach “heel” work off leash in the house. Once I have the dog walking smoothly by my side, I know that he’s learning. A non-distracting environment is the best place to start teaching any new behavior.
My friend Sandra Kruczek wrote a great article about this called “Learning algebra at a Bronco game.” It makes a lot of sense when you think about this particular statement. How can you possibly learn the steps to a dance standing in a crowd of people shouting and cheering? Our dogs feel a similar frustration when outside with the sounds and smells and activities of the great outdoors.
When your dog is on leash, he is your first priority. Your primary conversation should be with him and not the person walking next to you. If you are holding the hand of a 3-year-old child, your attention is on him. You want to teach him about what he sees and the safety of staying near you. You wouldn’t dream of using collar corrections on a child.
Keep your relationship with your dog as teacher and student; keep the lines of communication working to support teaching appropriate behavior.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25+ years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado. Visit www.totalteamworktraining.com.