Puppies and dogs learn by association, consistency and repetition. To acquire the appropriate association, it is up to you, to make it as simple as possible for your dog to make the connection of what you are commanding and the expected behavior.
Keep training sessions short, interesting and fun. End them, while your dog is fully engaged. You want them to look forward to “playing school,” and not run and hide under the bed when it’s time to do homework!
Stage 1 -Association/Acquisition
For you dog to follow your command, they must first acquire a sense of what behavior you expect. To do that, they must associate the expected behavior to the command. The word or words mean nothing to them, until you demonstrate the expected association to that command.
To put yourself in your dog’s place, imagine you are in a foreign country, and you have no experience with that language. You need to find a restroom, so what do you do? Somehow, you have to communicate that need, in a civilized manner, so you have to find the simplest way to express it. The same hold true for your puppy or dog… keep it simple, so they can acquire the association.
Stage 2 – Consistency
There is nothing more frustrating or confusing for your dog, than inconsistency. If you, and everyone in your home, are inconsistent with commands and expectations, your dog will never acquire the correct association for following commands, or well-mannered behavior.
Consistency simplifies training, be it obedience or behavior. When everyone living and working with the dog is consistent with commands and expectations, your dog will acquire the association faster, and respond appropriately.
When possible, the entire family should attend the training classes. This helps to keep things consistent when learning commands and corrections. Your dog will appreciate that!
Note: not only should commands and corrections be consistent; the rules of the house should also be constant. If one person allows the puppy or dog on the bed or couch, and the rules is no pets on the furniture, it confuses the animal.
Stage 3 – Repetition
Be prepared to repeat yourself as many times as it takes! Not all dogs learn at the same pace. Some catch on faster than others. The key to learning associations is consistent repetition. Once your dog has a grasp on the expected behavior, you can make learning more interesting, and raise the bar. Challenge their mind! Keep it fun!
Nearly all dogs want to please their owner. To get more out of your dog, challenge their minds by expanding and varying commands. However, do not expand and vary the repetitions, until your dog responds appropriately to the simple command at least 90% of the time. That is a fair assessment that your dog comprehends what is expected.
Stage 4 – Reinforcement
Rather than giving a command over and over again verbally, which only becomes “blah, blah, blah” to your dog. Reinforce your command with a physical gesture, a bit like sign language.
Watching and responding to your hand commands not only keeps your dog focused on you, it reinforces the behavior you are expecting, without boring your dog to tears. Your friends will be so impressed!
Stage 5 – Maintenance
Dog training is a labor of love. Like fees and taxes it never ends. All too often, people enroll their puppy or dog in one training class when they are young, and expect it to last a lifetime. It doesn’t!
Maintenance is the final stage. Think of maintenance as the CEU (Continuing Education Units) of dog training. The most well-behaved dogs are the ones that learn to respect boundaries and interact positively with people and other animals, on an on-going basis. Most people find by maintaining and expanding their pet’s training all through their lifetime, their dog stays attentive and sharp. Occasionally they are even pleasantly surprised by their dog’s capacity to learn something new, even as they get older. Old dogs can learn new tricks!
Work your dog for a few minutes daily. Work training into their daily routine, and you’ve doubled the training time. The more time you invest, the greater your return.
Periodically, sign up for a refresher or more advanced course of positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience or even agility training. You and your dog will not only enjoy the time shared together, as a team, you will tackle new challenges.
Bottom line: If you keep in mind the 5 stages of dog training, Acquisition, Consistency, Repetition, Reinforcement and Maintenance, you should have no problem finding within your puppy or dog, the well-mannered, well-behaved canine best friend you’ve always wanted.
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