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Dog Training

Most dogs, no matter their eventual advanced training or intended purpose, live with people who want them to behave in a way that makes them pleasant to be around, keeps them safe, and provides for the safety of other people and pets. Dogs do not figure out basic obedience on their own, they must be trained.


Basic training
The hardest part of training is communicating with the dog in a humane way that he understands. However, the underlying principle of all communication is simple: reward desired behavior while ignoring or correcting undesired behavior.

Basic pet obedience training usually consists of 5 behaviors:

Recall ("come" or "here")
Close ("with me" loose-leash walking)

Even so most people would say that the recall command is arguably the most important of all training command, it can not be achieved without the heel. A lot of people do not see the importance of the heel command, but if you place a closer look to it, it is obvious. You ask the dog to come back to you, most of the time when he is in play or pray mode- you need to be able to control him right next to you in a walk and having his attention right then when he is next to you. It is critical to never punish a dog if they respond to a recall. Punishing a dog upon recall quickly teaches the dog that if he returns he will be punished. If the dog requires a correction, the handler should go to the dog - the dog should not be asked to come and then be punished. The dog will attribute the punishment to whatever behavior he was doing directly before receiving it, and if that behavior was responding to a recall, then the handler will inadvertently have taught the dog to run away from the recall command.

"Corrections" should never include harmful physical force or violence. Using force while training is controversial and should not be taken lightly, because even if it ends the behavior, when applied inappropriately with some dogs it may lead to a loss of drive (enthusiasm for the given task), stress, and in some cases even aggression. A handler may decide to use force, however the standard used by most trainers is the minimum amount necessary to inhibit the unwanted behavior

Puppies and Learning
The prenatal period is a recent addition to the developmental periods of puppies. It is thought that “long-term effects on behavioral development may also be produced in some mammals by events occurring in utero.” (Serpell, 1995, p. 80) Previous studies tended to overlook the existence of this period, since the puppy’s behavior could not be observed. With the development of the ultrasound machine, a puppy could be observed within the mother as early as the fourth week of gestation.

It was found that puppies would react to touch and/or pressure from the outside of the mother’s abdomen. In addition, it is theorized that since puppies have such a well-developed sense of touch at birth, the sense of touch would also be well-developed before birth. Puppies may be sensitive to touch received by the mother while still unborn. Studies have found that “when a pregnant animal is petted her litter is more docile (Denenberg and Whimbey 1963, in Fox 1978).” According to Fox (1975, in Fox 1978) this facilitates relaxation, emotional attachment, and socialization as well. Other studies have indicated that puppies that receive outside contact (petting of the mother) while in utero have a higher tolerance for touching than puppies who receive no contact at all. One could deduce that gentle petting of the mother’s abdomen could help to facilitate positive, beneficial puppy socialization with people.

During the first two weeks of a puppy's life, also known as the neonate period, puppies can learn simple associations. (Serpell, 1995) However, early experience events are unlikely to carry over into later periods. Studies indicate that puppies in the neonate period do not seem to learn by experience. (Scott and Fuller, 1965) It is theorized that this is due to the fact that the puppy’s brain, sense, and motor organs are still undeveloped. Based on its limited capacity to sense and learn it would be difficult to affect the puppy psychologically, either in a positive or negative sense. (Scott and Fuller, 1965)

The next period of development is known as the socialization period. This is arguably the most important developmental period, beginning around 3 weeks (21 days) old, and ending around 12 weeks old. (Beaver, 1999) The biggest aspect of this period is social play. Social investigation (curiosity), playful fighting and playful sexual behavior (body contact) is very important to developing social relationships during its life. (Scott and Fuller, 1965) New behavior patterns are directly influenced by the puppy’s interaction with its mother and other puppies in the litter.

This is a time for developing social relationships, both among other puppies as well as with people. These behaviors are relatively easy for any individual who stays with the puppies during this period. However, there is a point where the puppies can develop a fear of strangers. At 3-5 weeks of age, puppies will actively approach strangers. Shortly thereafter stranger avoidance begins and slowly escalates until it peaks around 12-14 weeks of age. (Beaver, 1999) While this natural fear of strangers could serve as a way to keep a curious puppy away from predators, it can also hinder normal relationships with people.

During this period, startle reactions to sudden movement and sounds is now present. This serves to help the puppy learn to differentiate between which events are dangerous, and which events are safe or insignificant. (Scott and Fuller, 1965) During the socialization period, the development of attachment to certain locations occurs. This is displayed by an extreme disturbance in the puppy whenever a change in location occurs. This is known as “localization”. (Serpell, 1995) “Localization” often peaks in puppies between 6-7 weeks old (Scott and Fuller, 1965), and then tapers off after that time to the point where a change in location is no longer distressing to the puppy.

Dogs that are handled and petted by humans regularly during the first eight weeks of life are generally much more amenable to being trained and living in human households. Ideally, puppies should be placed in their permanent homes between about 8 and 10 weeks of age. In some places it is against the law to take puppies away from their mothers before the age of 8 weeks. Before this age, puppies are still learning tremendous amounts of socialization skills from their mother. Puppies are innately more fearful of new things during the period from 10 to 12 weeks, which makes it harder for them to adapt to a new home.

Puppies can begin learning tricks and commands as early as 8 weeks of age; the only limitations are the pup's stamina, concentration, and physical coordination. It is much easier to live with young dogs that have already learned basic commands such as sit. Waiting until the puppy is older and has already learned undesirable habits makes the training much more challenging. (Beaver, 1999; Lindsay, 2000; Scott and Fuller 1965; Serpell 1995)

Basic training classes
Professional "dog trainers" usually do not train the dogs, but actually train the owners on how to train their own dogs. Although it is also possible to send a dog away to a training school, the owner still must at some point learn what the dog has learned and how to use and reinforce the techniques. Some call this a shortcut, but plenty of work is still required and training must continue over the course of the dog's life. Owners and dogs who attend class together have an opportunity to learn more about each other and how to work together under a trainer's guidance. Training is most effective if everyone who handles the dog takes part in the training to ensure consistent commands, methods, and enforcement. Classes also help socialize your dog to other people and dogs. Ask your vet or the owner of a well behaved dog for recommendations in your area.

Formal training in classes is not always available until the puppy has completed all its vaccinations at around 4 months; however, some trainers offer puppy socialization classes in which puppies can enroll immediately after being placed in their permanent homes as long as disease risk is minimal and puppies have received initial vaccinations. In most cases, basic training classes accept only puppies who are at least 3 to 6 months old.

Communicating with the dog
Fundamentally, dog training is about communication. From the human perspective the handler is communicating to the dog what behaviors are correct, desired, or preferred in what circumstances. From the canine perspective the handler must communicate what behaviors will give the dog the most satisfaction to his natural instincts and emotions. Without that inner satisfaction a dog will not work well.

A successful handler must also understand the communication that the dog sends to the handler. The dog can signal that he is unsure, confused, nervous, happy, excited, and so on. The emotional state of the dog is an important consideration in directing the training, as a dog that is stressed or distracted will not learn efficiently.

According to Learning Theory there are four important messages that the handler can send the dog:

Reward or release marker
Correct behavior. You have earned a reward. For example, "Free" or "Okay" followed by a reward.

Keep going signal
Correct behavior. Continue and you will earn a reward. For example, "Good".

No reward marker
Incorrect behavior. Try something else. For example, "Uh-uh" or "Try again".

Punishment marker
Incorrect behavior. You have earned punishment. For example, "No" or more specific commands like "off," "out," or "leave it."

Using consistent signals or words for these messages enables the dog to understand them more quickly. If the handler sometimes says "good" as a reward marker and sometimes as a keep going signal, it is difficult for the dog to know when he has earned a reward.

It is important to note that the dog's reward is not the same as the reward marker. The reward marker is a signal that tell the dog that he has earned the reward. Many novice dog owners make the mistake of using effusive verbal praise as both a reward marker and a reward, which can confuse dog and owner.

Rewards can be praise, treats, play, or anything that the dog finds rewarding. Failure to reward after the reward marker diminishes the value of the reward marker and makes training more difficult.

These four messages do not have to be communicated with words, and nonverbal signals are often used. In particular, mechanical clickers are frequently used for the reward marker. Hand signals and body language also play an important part in learning for dogs.

The meanings of the four signals are taught to the dog through repetition, so that he may form an association by classical conditioning. For example, if the handler consistently gives the dog a reward marker immediately before he gives the dog a food treat, the dog soon will learn to associate the reward marker with receiving something pleasant (clicker trainers call forming this association "charging up" the clicker). Likewise, if the dog is always given a punishment marker before he is scolded or put outside for bad behaviour, he will soon learn to associate the punishment marker with the punishment itself.


The articles below can be accessed by clicking on each or by going directly to where you will find resources about dog training and dog care including valuable information on dog care, dog rescue, breeding and adoption.

Behavior Problems:
- Barking
- Destructive Chewing
- Feces Eating in Dogs
- Food Guarding
- Jumping Up
- Mouthing and Nipping
- Object Guarding
- Problem Digging
- Urine Marking

Training Tips:
- Crate Training
- House Training
- Leash Training
- Sit Training
- Teaching Eye Contact
- Dog Communication
- Teaching Your Dog to Come
- Clicker Training
- Training Equipment

Keeping Your Dog Happy:
- Backyard Etiquette
- Breed-Based Activities
- Physical And Mental Stimulation
- Separation Anxiety

Getting Another Pet:
- Introducing A New Dog to Your Cat
- Getting Another Dog

For Puppy Parents:
- Preparing for A New Puppy
- Puppy Socialization

General Behavior:
- Canine Adolescence
- Dog Trainers & Behaviorists
- Pushy Dogs
- Dog Aggression
- Simple Solutions for Common Problems

Reprinted with permission from ASPCA

Dogs usually do not generalize commands easily; that is, a dog who has learned a command in a particular location and situation may not immediately recognize the command to other situations. A dog who knows how to "down" in the living room may suffer genuine confusion if asked to "down" at the park or in the car. The command will need to be retaught in each new situation, though it may be substantially easier after being taught at home where there are fewer distractions. This is sometimes called "cross-contextualization," meaning the dog has to apply what's been learned to many different contexts.

Reward and punishment
Most training revolves around giving the dog consequences for his behaviour, in the hope of influencing the behaviour the dog will exhibit in the future. Operant conditioning defines four types of consequences:

Positive reinforcement adds something to the situation to increase the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again (for example, giving a dog a treat when he sits.)

Negative reinforcement removes something from the situation to increase the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again (for example, releasing the tension on an uncomfortable training collar when the dog stops pulling on the leash).

Positive punishment adds something to the situation to decrease the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again (for example, verbally growling at a dog to make it stop jumping up).

Negative punishment removes something from the situation to decrease the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again (for example, walking away from a dog who jumps up).

Most modern trainers say that they use "positive training methods", which is a different meaning of the word "positive" from that in operant conditioning. "Positive training methods" generally means preferring the use of reward-based training to increase good behavior over that of physical punishment to decrease bad behavior. However, a good trainer understands all four methods, whether or not they can put operant-conditioning terminology to them, and applies them as appropriate for the dog, the breed, the handler, and the situation.

Positive reinforcers can be anything that the dog finds rewarding - special food treats, the chance to play with a tug toy, social interaction with other dogs, or the owners attention. The more rewarding a dog finds a particular reinforcer, the more work he will be prepared to do in order to obtain the reinforcer.

It is important that the dog is not "bribed" to perform. In dog training, the term "bribery" means that the dog is aware of the presence of the reward before he is asked to complete the command. The risk with bribery is that the dog will refuse to comply with commands when he cannot see the reward, since he knows from experience that he will only be rewarded when he can see the reward. Experienced trainers will hide the reward from the dog, and only produce the reward once the dog has already complied with the command. The goal is to produce a dog who will perform even on occasions that the handler has no reward to offer, since the dog's training has taught him that the handler may have a reward even if the dog cannot see it.

Some trainers go through a process of teaching a puppy to strongly desire a particular toy, in order to make the toy a more powerful positive reinforcer for good behaviour. This process is called "building prey drive", and is commonly used in the training of Narcotics Detection and Police Service dogs. The goal is to produce a dog who will work independently for long periods of time, in the hopes of earning access to its special toy reward.

Positive punishment is probably the consequence that is least understood and commonly misused by modern dog trainers, as it must be used very carefully.

Punishments are administered only as appropriate for the dog's personality, age, and experience. A sharp No works for many dogs, but some dogs even show signs of fear or anxiety even with mild verbal corrections. Punishment must never involve hitting as this creates fear of other forms of contact. The use of "Alpha rolls" and similar techniques should never be used.

Avoiding punishment
Keeping a puppy on a leash in challenging situations or in his crate or pen when not closely supervised prevents the puppy from getting into situations that might otherwise invite an owner's harsh reaction (such as chewing up a favorite pair of shoes).

The command voice
When giving commands to a dog, a calm, firm, authoritative voice is most effective. Dogs do not respond well to hesitant, pleading voices, nor to yelling, which might sound to the dog like threatening barking or scolding. It is also important that the word used for the command and the pitch of the voice be consistent each time the command is delivered so that the dog can more easily learn what the owner means (siiiiiiiiiiiit does not sound the same as sit, for example).

Using the puppy's name before a command ensures that the dog knows that a command is coming, that it is for him (rather than for other dogs, children, or people), and that he should pay attention. This is important because dogs hear a lot of human speech that has no relevance for them at all, and it is easy for them to disregard commands amongst the babble.

To reinforce the command, the dog always gets some kind of reward or reinforcement (praise and usually a treat or toy) when it performs the action correctly. This helps the dog to understand that he has done a good thing.

Note that not all dogs are trained to voice command. Many working breeds of dog are not trained to a voice command at all; they are taught to obey a combination of whistles and hand signals. Deaf dogs are perfectly capable of learning to obey visual signals alone. Many obedience classes teach hand signals for common commands in addition to voice signals; these signals can be useful in quiet situations, at a distance, and in advanced obedience competitions.

The specific command words are not important, although common words in English include sit, down, come, and stay. Short, clear words that are easily understood by other humans are generally recommended; that way, people will understand what a handler is telling his dog to do and other handlers have a good chance of controlling someone else's dog if necessary. In fact, dogs can learn commands in any language or other communications medium, including whistles, mouth sounds, hand gestures, and so forth.

Training tricks
Many dog owners teach their dogs tricks. This serves several purposes: Develops a stronger relationship between the dog and human; provides entertainment; and engages the dog's mind, which can help to alleviate problems caused by boredom. For example, the shake hands trick involves the dog raising its paw and placing it into an outstretched hand. An example of a useful trick is teaching a dog to ring a bell to go outside. This helps prevent the stress placed on an owner when trying to recognize whether the dog needs to relieve itself. For more information, see clicker training or bridge and target training.

Many habits can come up with different dogs. Begging at dinner should not be seen. Don't pay attention to your dog at dinner time, and your dog will notice that you won't give them food.

Shock Training
One of the most controversial training methods involves using a "remote training collar", otherwise known as an "e-collar" or "shock collar".

These have been banned in a number of countries and are considered inhumane by the majority of companion animal welfare and rescue charities. These devices have the same capacity to cause pain as other forms of positive punishment like hitting or slapping. There is scientific evidence that these collars may produce persistent negative associations that result in anxiety.

At anywhere from three to six months of age, a puppy begins to get its adult set of teeth. This period can be quite painful and many owners do not recognize the natural need to chew. By providing specific chew toys designed to ease the pain of teething (such as a frozen nylon bone), attention can be diverted from table legs and other furniture. Many people also use a bad-tasting, bad-smelling spray on favorite items, such as shoes, furniture, or even wallpaper, to discourage chewing. Bitter apple is a commonly used spray, but there are several commercial sprays available. Different sprays work better for different applications, owners, or puppies.

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