Last week we discussed the reasons behind the frustrating problem of your dog disobeying you. (And if you haven’t read that piece yet, please go read it first before you go any further. Really. We’ll wait.)
As helpful as it can be to understand the reasons behind your dog’s behavior, there are still times when it’s really important that your dog listen to you. So, how can you increase your dog’s reliability? Let’s explore two of the easiest things you can do to help your dog respond more enthusiastically, every single time you ask.
1. Train responsibly. While this was already mentioned in passing last week, it’s such an important thing that it bears repeating. If your dog isn’t obeying, give him the benefit of the doubt. Rule out physical and emotional pain first, and if you have any reason to suspect that your dog is hurt or anxious, address that problem immediately.
Remember that dogs, like people, learn gradually. If you know a situation is too difficult for the level of training your dog currently has, don’t expect your dog to succeed in that situation. Young learners, whether human or canine, deserve to be taught in such a way that they build on success rather than setting them up for failure. Gradually make training exercises harder for your dog as he gains proficiency, and help him out if he’s struggling.
2. Make it worth his while. How, when, and why you reward your dog can make or break your training. Most new trainers tend to reward infrequently, but doing so is shooting yourself in the foot.
Remember, dogs learn through repetition. The more frequently and generously you reward your dog, the faster he will learn. Make sure the rewards you use are those your dog really wants, as well. If your dog isn’t willing to work for whatever you’re offering in the moment, it’s not going to change his behavior. Kibble or even just praise may work fine to train your dog at home, but you may need to offer chicken or tuna at a busy dog event.
Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to one reward. Mix them up! In addition to food, consider using toys, play, and access to things your dog loves. If your dog lights up when he gets to chase bunnies, why not let the opportunity to move towards a bunny be his reward for focusing on you? If your dog really gets into digging, put the behavior of digging on cue and then let your dog dig as a reward for obeying when you’re in areas where it’s appropriate for him to do so. For dogs who love sniffing and peeing on every vertical surface, give your dog the opportunity to relieve himself in exchange for his compliance with one of your requests. By approaching your relationship with your dog in this way, you can develop a rich partnership in which you both get exactly what you want by working with one another. How cool is that?
Ultimately, the responsibility for your dog’s behavior falls on your shoulders. After all, you’re the one with the opposable thumbs (not to mention that big prefrontal cortex)! And that’s not a bad thing. The more you work with your dog, support him, and help him succeed, the more he’ll give back in terms of his focus and willingness to try for you.
Now it’s your turn, blog readers. How have you improved your dog’s reliability? What tips and tricks would you like to share with others? Please add to the discussion in the comments section below!