Here are some basic principles that all dog owners should learn and follow:
1. Be consistent. A behavior is acceptable or it is not. It may not be acceptable on alternate Tuesdays when you’re in the mood. For example, it may not be okay to allow your dog to jump on you on the weekends when he is dressed down, but not during the week when he is dressed for work. That goes without saying, though you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who do exactly that.
Here’s one that’s less obvious. It may not be okay for your dog to chew on cloth toys, but it may not be okay for your dog to chew on “inappropriate” cloth items. In other words, if you give your dog an old sock and say, “Here, chew this,” don’t be surprised when he eats your shirt. Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and harder for families. The more people interact with the dog, the greater the chance of inconsistency. I highly recommend that families hold a few meetings to discuss and agree on what will be universally unacceptable behavior on the part of the dog.
Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what the rules will be for a training program to be the most successful. That being said, we live in the real world and I recognize how difficult consistency is going to be on the part of a six year old. Parents of younger children will need to practice a fair amount of prevention and understand that the dog training process can be a bit more difficult and lengthy.
2. Be consistent. Yes, I know I’ve already said this, but consistency also extends to obedience commands. If you want your dog to learn to listen for obedience commands the first time they are given, you must be prepared to properly teach your dog to obey them the first time. This is accomplished most effectively if the initial basic obedience you teach at home is done off-the-cuff.
Sometimes I have run into trouble talking about how important it is for dogs to consistently obey commands. In my opinion, this is an area where attitudes have gone downhill in the last 30 years. Decades ago, the idea that a dog needed to obey commands the first time they were given would have elicited no comment. Today, there are many owners who are uncomfortable with the idea that their dog must be trained to respond in such a predictable manner.
I’ve had object owners, based on the idea that they didn’t want their dogs to “become robots”. It is important for these owners to understand that if training is done primarily with compassion and reward in the first place, this will not happen; and second, you may not care if your dog hears the first command until the first time he runs out into the street. Then, as the cars rush towards her, he’ll pray that she listens to the first order, because he may never get a second.
Details on how to teach basic obedience off leash can be found in Chapter 7 of this book. However, consistency principles really need to be understood here.
3. Understand why the behaviors occur and address the problems by addressing the cause. When owners learn to do this, they won’t just be reacting to what are often symptoms of an underlying problem.
4. Learn basic training techniques and then follow rules one and two. All owners must understand the principles of prevention, maintenance, redirection, reward, and correction. And they need to use them constantly. Now that you understand some of the challenges, let’s talk a bit about behavior, so everyone can be clear about what terms like “prevention,” “maintenance,” “retargeting,” and “reward” really mean. Once you understand how a dog learns, we can move on to the business of training.