What You Can You Expect From a Class
A good beginning dog training class should be as much about teaching the owners as teaching the dog. "The owner is the one who trains the dog, because the owner is with the dog all the time," says Hanson. "In our Puppy Head Start class, we teach owners about all those puppy behaviors that can annoy or frustrate us -- house training, chewing stuff we don't want them to chew, play biting."
It's important, Hanson says, to focus on why the puppy does things that annoy its owners. "I strongly believe a lot of what people don't like about dogs is normal and natural behavior for them. So we have to understand why they do it before we can teach them to do something else."
The Head Start class is followed by "Basic Manners." There, they teach owners how to train the dog to do the typical things people like dogs to do -- such as sitting, lying down, walking nicely on a leash, and coming when called.
"The best classes," Hanson says, "are the ones where the instructors are as good at working with people as they are at working with dogs."
Expert Tips for Training Your Dog
Training is a process that should be ongoing throughout a dog's life. "Dogs live in the moment and do what makes them feel good," Bruce says. They learn to associate specific behaviors with the level of reward they bring. And since dogs are constantly learning, just by being with the dog, you are teaching it how to behave. Here are tips to help make that teaching process beneficial for both your dog and you.
Reward Good Behavior
- Positive reinforcement is a more effective approach for training dogs than the older, more traditional corrective approach. The corrective approach uses such techniques as physical manipulation and collar corrections to get the dog to do what is right in order to avoid the correction. "We now have studies that show positive reinforcement builds a positive relationship of trust and cooperation between owner and dog," Bruce says. "If we constantly tell our dogs what not to do and don't emphasize what we want them to do, we're going to have a very shut-down dog."
Understand Your Dog's Perspective
- Both Fisher and Bruce say that, in order to train a dog, it's essential to be able to see from the dog's perspective. If you want to change a behavior, you need to understand what the dog gets from the behavior and use that awareness to help in the training.
- According to Hanson, when you are training a dog to unlearn a behavior, such as jumping on people, it's important to have all family members on board. That helps with consistency. Then the task is to reward the behavior you like -- not jumping -- and prevent the one you don't like from happening. One way to do that is to instill an alternative behavior such as sitting when people come in. "A dog can't jump if it's sitting."