Friday, April 22, 2011

What Is Training

The best time to learn about dog behavior is before you're in the thick of things and your dog is jumping all over your guests or redecorating the house with the contents of your trash can. There are several ways of "training" your dog. It's important to understand that when deciding what you need to do with your dog.

First, there is "behavior training." This is the kind of training in which a dog is taught to be a "good citizen." Typically this includes housetraining, good behavior around other people and dogs, reasonable leash manners and other small things that make a dog a much more pleasant companion. A well behaved dog attracts no special notice from the public (aside from amazing some with their good manners).

Then there is "obedience training," which is generally teaching the dog how to perform specific activities on cue. This can include traditional "obedience" exercises such as sit, stay, come, down and heeling. The emphasis here is on prompt and precise performance. While there can be many overall benefits to such training, the training is usually for the training's sake and not necessarily to improve the dog's behavior. Dogs that have been obedience trained will perform specific tasks when their owners ask them to do so. (And as a matter of fact, some obedience trained dogs may behave poorly otherwise.

"Activity training" refers to training for specific activities -- this includes hunting, herding, Search and Rescue, lure coursing -- any of a myriad number of activities designed to showcase the abilities of the dog and his handler, particularly in activities a the dog has been bred to do. These days, such activity also includes "sports" such as frisbee, flyball, agility and so on. Sports type of training is basically obedience training on steroids as the dog is still being asked to do un-dog like things.

Of course the lines tend to blur between all of these distinctions. A certain amount of obedience training will help with behaviors and a behaviorist will teach certain obedience commands to assist with getting a dog under control. For example a dog that is heeling will not pull on the leash. Still you want to keep this in mind when selecting a training class so that it best matches your needs. For many pet owners, the behavior oriented classes are the best way to learn how to understand and control your dog. For those of you who want to enjoy a sport or compete in an activity with your dog you will need to start with obedience and move along to more complex training.

The basis for each type of training is who is learning who's language. With behavior training, it's mostly the human learning dog, and with obedience training it's mostly the dog learning human words and what to do when he hears them. At either end of the scale, the human has the biggest job. All the dog has to do is listen and do what the human asks for. It's the human's job to figure out how to communicate her wishes to the dog.

There really is no right or wrong way to train your dog and you can mix and match to serve your purposes. Things to take into consideration when choosing the most effective method for you and your dog include: your personality, your dog's personality, your goals, your abilities as a trainer, and your experience as a trainer. For example, if you are not happy with a particular method of training, for whatever reason, then it is unlikely you and your dog will do well with this method. Your dog will pick up on your reluctance and either share your dismay or take advantage of the situation to do as he pleases.

You need to be aware of whether your dog needs behavior modification or obedience training. Certainly, the two may be related: a dog that digs because it is bored may become less bored with obedience training and stop digging. It is important, however, to understand that the dog stopped digging because it was no longer bored than because it now knows how to sit.

If your dog is the strong, take charge type, a method that does not deal with this trait will result in his walking away with the training sessions, getting very little done. Conversely, if your dog is very sensitive, there may be a variety of methods you can use so long as you are very careful about how you correct him. Or, a very timid dog may need a particular method that emphasizes learning something new very thoroughly so that they may be as confident as possible when doing it. You have to know your dog and what his strengths and weakenesses are.

Your own abilities as a trainer come into play, as well. Some people have a natural sense of timing and an almost instinctive understanding of what their dog is thinking and how to react to it. Most people do not have this ability but can learn it to some degree over time. Others just do not. Recognizing your particular strengths and weaknesses will let you use each more effectively. Another ability some people seem to just have, others can develop, etc. is the ability to "read" a dog; that is correctly guess what the dog is thinking or feeling during training. This ability is valuable as it allows you to make appropriate adjustments on the fly to increase the effectiveness of your training.

Obviously, therefore, a good trainer is one who helps YOU figure out how to train your dog. A good trainer helps you learn to observe your dog for important clues to his behaviors and actions. A good trainer watches you and your dog work together and helps you learn where you are letting your dog down. A trainer's job, in short, is to teach you to become a trainer of your own dog. It is not a trainer's job to teach your dog.

Typically, you only see your trainer for one hour a week. Training requires short, daily sessions. YOU are the one training your dog. A good trainer has several methods under her belt and helps you figure out which ones work best with your dog.

Don't worry, there are some constants in dog training: Persistence, Consistency, Kindness and Fairness.

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