Is Your Dog Driving You Crazy? Working Toward Stronger Dog Training
I often get asked, and sometimes get argued with about which type of training makes for a stronger “final” behavior.
So let’s break that down in a way that I hope I can explain well so that you understand who to achieve the strongest behaviors while training your dog.
First Let’s Talk About The Three Basic Ways to Train That I will be Describing
- 1st Force or Correction
- 2nd Luring
- 3rd Shaping
Force or Correction
Although it sounds bad, to those of us who don’t like leash corrections; force or think of it as “help” isn’t always a bad thing.
Let’s take Sit
Many people hook a leash up, yank the dog up or snap back on the leash while pushing the dog’s rump down.
This is how most of us were taught to train a puppy or dog to sit.
Say “sit” yank, push and then reward (some people reward).
Do dogs learn this way?
Yes, of course they do!
Some people still mainly train in this method.
It seems quicker because we are forcing it to happen quickly and on our time.
The problem is that the dog WAITS for the command, and the dog often waits for the correction or force.
You see in the beginning the dog the dog thinks that the force is part of the equation.
You say sit and he waits for you to do your part, the push and the leash correction.
He learns through aversion, usually, to eventually avoid the “correction” because it increasingly becomes uncomfortable and distasteful and will eventually act on his own when he hears the command.
Think of the owner who gets angry because he has issued the command and yet the dog is not responding so his correction gets more and more harsh.
The dog learns because he is avoiding the harsh correction.
Luring is a better way to get a solid behavior but it still has it’s flaws!
Luring requires showing the dog the treat or reward and luring him into completing the behavior.
Let’s take “Sit” as an example again.
If a person wants their dog to sit and they are using the luring methodology they take a treat, put it up to the dog’s nose and then slowly begin to raise the treat up into the air.
The dog or puppy’s butt will naturally hit the floor, at which point the behavior is marked (hopefully with a clicker for more on why that is important click here) and the treat is delivered.
I prefer to add the cue/command AS the puppy is performing the behavior not prior to his completing the behavior. I believe this helps the puppy to understand.
Remember it may take a few times to get your puppy’s rump to successfully hit the floor and if you give the command first the puppy may not remember that the command or the cue goes with that specific behavior.
After a few sessions, the dog or puppy will hopefully begin to naturally sit on his own in hopes of being rewarded.
I say “hopefully” because sometimes, especially with more complicated behaviors, the dog or puppy may wait to be lured.
Although since there is nothing unpleasant about luring, if the owner waits, the dog usually will learn to show the behavior that was once rewarding.
Even with complicated behaviors, usually, the dog will at least try to perform at which time the owner can reward the steps toward the goal.
*For instance the dog may not automatically turn on the light switch (the complicated behavior you were hoping for) but he may jump up on the wall and motion toward the lights; then that step can be rewarded as part of a complicated behavior chain.
Shaping is actually the strongest way to condition a behavior!
When you shape a behavior, you are waiting for the dog to show part or all of the behavior.
Let’s go back to “Sit”.
If I wait for my dog to sit, and then I reward him for the behavior; my dog learns to show the behavior ON HIS OWN and he learns that is it rewarding!
That is the big difference. He isn’t waiting for you to “force him”, he isn’t waiting for you to “help him” he learns that the behavior in and of itself is rewarding.
Once you have marked the behavior with a clicker or a marker word (hopefully a clicker), then you gain control of the behavior and can add the cue or command.
So, I wait for my puppy to sit and I click and reward him. He learns that sitting brings rewards and begins to do it often around me. At this point, I tell him what he is doing as he is doing it so he understands that the word goes with the behavior.
Soon, I can use the word/command/cue and he will understand the rewarded behavior is what I desire.
I much prefer this way of training.
I like a dog that wants to show the behavior because he knows I like it. I want a dog that chooses to do things that he feels are rewarding.
I don’t want him to wait for me to use the command or cue, or wait for me to force or lure him.
If you think about it; you will see how powerful shaping is in difference to other ways of dog training!
The Thing to Remember
The thing to remember is, that good dog training probably uses all of these methods; yet relies on as much shaping as possible!
I am probably never going to catch my dog rolling over so that I may capture it, or shape it.
Instead, I am probably going to lure him into a down and hopefully from there lure him over onto his back and then fully around.
But, I may have to help him when he is partially there. Many dogs panic when they are learning to roll over (since this is not a normal feeling or behavior for a dog). And, I often help the dog by calmly and gently taking those flailing legs and helping the dog back onto his other side while feeding him.
I remember as a child about 12 years old, trying to teach our pet Chow Chow how to roll over. We (my sister and I) would have her lay down, shout roll over and then simply grab her legs and toss her over.
She balked at first, and it took a very long time; but eventually she too learned to roll over on command.
We didn’t realize that dogs and people learn faster, the more positive the experience!
Your dog might learn if you use “not so positive methods” but they learn faster and the behaviors are more solid the more positive the experience is and the less they think they need help from you or anyone else!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.