The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT, UK) was set up over 20 years ago to provide dog owners with a place to go to get information/education regarding ‘positive’ dog training.
Positive dog training meant that the information would be based on non-punitive/non-aversive training. This type of training is – fortunately – more common nowadays, but then was practiced by the minority of training instructors 20 years ago.
To be positive in dog training means that we set the dog up for success, rather than waiting for it to fail, punishing it, and when it eventually works out what is required being rewarded. It is not difficult to understand why ‘positive’ training not only makes learning easier for the dog, but also helps to maintain a good relationship between the dog and the owner(s).
There is one way for a dog to succeed, but many ways for it to fail. An example is ‘down’ or ‘lay’. We want the dog to lay down on the floor, when asked. The dog does not understand English, or any other language other than canine, so repeating ‘down, down, down’ is going to achieve little.
However, if we use a piece of the dog’s food allowance, put it in front of his nose, take the food to the floor – so the dog will follow the food and his head and then the rest of him will lay down. We ‘mark’ the behaviour (with a word or a clicker) so he knows that is what we want. He is rewarded. This is repeated, he lays down again, we ‘mark’ it, and is rewarded. On the third or fourth repetition we can just move our hand, and then ‘mark’ and reward. He is no longer following the food, but is following the hand. At that stage we can introduce the word ‘down’ (or any other word you want to use as a cue), and move our hand to the ground. The dog will realise that the word is quickly followed by the movement and, more importantly, that when he lays down, he will be rewarded.
Dogs, like all sentient beings, will do what works for them. Laying down on the floor results in a reward – why wouldn’t he do that when we ask? This is a very simple example of ‘luring’; one of the methods used in ‘positive’ training.
Other methods include ‘shaping’ – where we reward the dog for small increments towards the final, required, behaviour – and ‘capturing’ where we ‘mark’ and reward a dog for doing something we like.
The other, really important, part of training a dog is termed ‘generalisation’. Dogs are quite specific when they are first learning a cue. This often leads to misunderstandings between dog and owner. The dog has learned ‘down’ at home; the dog is taken for a walk and asked to ‘down’, the dog doesn’t lie down and the owner gets upset. He perhaps thinks the dog is being ‘stubborn’. He is not, he just doesn’t understand that ‘down’ applies under circumstances other than at home. So, we need to teach the dog again when on his walk – go back to the beginning, with luring, and introduce the cue again. Teach again at the park, at the railway station, in the woods, etc. Each time you teach it the dog will learn quicker and quicker – he has started to ‘generalise’ the behaviour and soon will understand that ‘down’ means lay down wherever we are.
Very often when owners have a problem they know what they don’t want, and ask us to ‘stop the dog doing…’. The better way to look at things is what do they want the dog to do instead? That is what we train. So the owner says ‘I want the dog to stop jumping up at people when they come into the house’. We ask them to think, instead, of what they want the dog to do. That might be ‘I want the dog to sit when people come into the house’. So that’s what we teach him. If your dog is doing something you don’t like, think about what alternative behaviour you can teach him that you would like.
Sadly, many people still think that they must train their dog with fear. They believe the dog should be frightened of doing anything wrong, therefore he will behave. This is ridiculous. A dog can be trained with kindness and he will do as we ask, learn our rules, and how we expect him to behave. He will return to us when called because he wants to, not because he fears the consequence if he doesn’t. He will walk nicely because he understands that is what is required, not that if he pulls his lead he will experience pain. He will not jump up at visitors because he knows he will be petted when he sits calmly, not because he will be shouted at (or worse) if he jumps up.
If you are getting a puppy, or rehoming a dog, please look for a training instructor who will help you to train your dog in a kind, fair and effective way. Ask to visit a potential class before signing up – have a look on our website to check what you should be looking for – and only enrol if you are happy about what you see. There are many training classes available, but the one that is the closest to your house may not be the most suitable. Remember that you might only be making the journey once a week for a number of months – no time at all when you think your dog will hopefully be sharing your home for many years. Instructors will explain how to train your dog, but the majority of the training will be done by you at and around your home.
Taking time to understand, and teach, your dog and giving him the opportunity to understand you, should result in many happy years together. Have fun!
For more information visit the APDT website.