May 29, 2011
Diane LarattaSusie was teaching her new puppy to sit on command. Using a tiny treat, she showed it to the puppy, and then slowly raised it just above the puppy‚??s head. When the puppy looked up to follow the treat, his butt went down and he went into a sit. Susie said the word ‚??sit‚?Ě as the puppy‚??s bottom settled into a sit and rewarded the puppy with a treat. After a couple days, Susie said the word ‚??sit‚?Ě and the puppy promptly went into a sit! It tickled Susie so much that she wanted to show off the puppy‚??s new command to her husband. ‚??Steve, come here. Bosco knows how to sit!‚?Ě Suddenly Susie remembered that she had forgotten to praise Bosco for sitting. Susie looked down and said ‚??Good boy, Bosco,‚?Ě and she gave him a treat. Unfortunately for Susie, Bosco didn‚??t have a clue that he was being rewarded for sitting. Instead, Bosco thought he was being rewarded for scratching, because while Susie was calling her husband, Bosco had an itch and was busy scratching when Susie said ‚??good boy.‚?Ě Scratching was the last thing Bosco was doing when he was praised, so he connected the praise to the scratching. When training a dog, timing is everything! Great trainers praise and correct immediately. When the dog does something wrong, and they catch it in the act, they correct promptly. The correction may be verbal, ‚??quiet‚?Ě or ‚??no bark‚?Ě or it may be a spritz of water from a squirt bottle as they say, ‚??no chew.‚?Ě It might be a slight collar correction, ‚??no bite.‚?Ě But it‚??s done as the dog is in the midst of the unacceptable behavior ‚?? not 10 or 20 seconds afterwards. When the owner of a dog walks into a room, all too often he sees something the dog has destroyed ... a couch pillow or a pair of shoes. The deed was done 30 minutes earlier, but the angry owner feels he must let the dog know that it did something wrong. The owner might take the dog over to the debris and say, ‚??Look what you did! Bad dog!‚?Ě And the dog responds by hanging its head and lowering its tail. ‚??See, he knows he did wrong,‚?Ě exclaims the owner. Yes. The dog knows he is in trouble, but he has no clue why. What should the owner have done when he entered the room and saw the damage? The best thing would be to quietly clean it up and resolve not to leave the shoes on the floor or pillows on the couch until the dog was trained to leave them alone.The same rule applies to praising a dog. It has to be done immediately! Because as Susie found out when she praised Bosco, what you think you‚??re praising the dog for may be something totally different than what the dog thinks he‚??s getting rewarded for.Every interaction we have with our dog teaches it something. If we open the refrigerator and get out a slice of cheese to munch on and we give a piece to the dog, the next time we open the refrigerator the dog will be right there expecting a piece of cheese. When we‚??re in the vet‚??s office with our dog and he‚??s acting a little nervous, if we pet the dog to soothe its anxiety, we‚??re actually reinforcing its fears and making matters worse. Dogs don‚??t think about some things the way humans think about them.While we‚??re on the subject of training, remember that commands should be given once and if the dog doesn‚??t obey, the owner should reinforce. Never give a command you can‚??t reinforce. If you taught the dog to sit and you‚??re sure he knows what ‚??sit‚?Ě means, if he doesn‚??t sit when you give the command, you should put him in a sit ‚?? immediately. Not 10 or 20 seconds later. And if you‚??re in the habit of repeating commands, ‚??Sit, sit, sit, Bosco, please sit,‚?Ě the dog starts to understand that the command for sit is you saying it four or five times and probably raising your voice as you do it. In other words, you get what you train.Understanding how your dog thinks is very important to raising a great canine companion. Dog obedience classes can be very helpful to training and raising a good dog as good instructors explain the reasons behind your dog‚??s behavior.Diane Laratta has been actively involved in the sport of purebred dogs for over 35 years. She owns and operates The Hollowell Academy of Dog Training & Grooming. Questions concerning choosing a dog or about dog training/behavior may be sent to her at 201 E. Kiracofe, Elida, OH 45807 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.