What Is Dog Training

what is dog training
Photo Credit: Tom Verdoot, pexels.com

Dog training is a process of changing a dog’s character using a series of events, to fit into a lifestyle or to carry out specific tasks. Training a dog is a difficult task but it also helps to foster a bond between the dog and the owner.

Dogs are known to be loyal, affectionate, playful and social. But sometimes, their activities, barking, and adventures make them so difficult to live with.

It is therefore very important to teach your dog some behavior that will help her live in a human home and/or carry out tasks that are helpful to the owner.

Dog Training Methods

There are many methods which can be used to train a dog and they all work. Some methods are yield quicker results than others while some are more fun than others.

Some of these methods are:

Clicker Dog Training Method

This method involves the use of a clicker to reinforce and encourage positive behaviors in dogs being trained. The clicker is a small plastic device that “clicks” when pressed. It is used to let a dog know that she has successfully acted in the right manner.

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Giving the dog a treat after a click makes this method more effective. Training a dog with a clicker was derived from a scientific theory that discovered that an animal would continue to take any action as long as it is being rewarded.

The clicker helps the dog to realize when she has done something right and try to take the action repeatedly. If a dog begins to understand the concept of clicker training, learning lots of tricks becomes possible.

Steps to be taking in clicker training are:

i. Learn how to use a clicker first.

ii. Teach your dog what a clicker means and how happy his positive actions make you.

iii. Find out how the dog reacts to the clicker and decide whether to add verbal cues or not.

iv. Remember to keep a lot of treats or toys handy while using the clicker method. Always follow the clicker sound with a treat or verbal reward so that it doesn’t lose its relevance.

v. Use the clicker whenever the dog makes a body movement close to the training taken. This is called shaping. It helps to encourage the dog to do more to achieve the target behavior or action.

This video explains how to train a dog using the clicker.

Positive Reinforcement Method

This is the process of training your dog by rewarding actions you like and ignoring or disagreeing with behaviors you don’t like. Rewards could be treats, toys, cuddles, handshakes, or games.

This method allows every member of the family to get involved in training their dog. It is a method that even children can participate in. Once they have some treats and know the commands to give, they can also join in the training.

Negative reinforcements don’t always work when trying to modify a dog’s behavior. The act of hitting a dog when she misbehaves creates a sense of fear and a bridge in communication.

They might perceive those actions that brought punishments as those that you don’t want them to do in your presence. They might not stop the behavior but would start doing them in your absence instead.

Sometimes, punishments make some dogs aggressive. They might develop a withdrawal attitude and get confused about the actions that are required of them.

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Mirror Training or Model-Rival Method

This method involves the modification of the behavior of the dog owner to show the dog the best ways to act. It is believed that the dog living with people reflects the owner in their actions, poorly or precisely.

When using this training method, dogs are not blamed for their mistakes. The dog owners take steps to improve their behavior and communication with their dogs to corrects those mistakes.

There are three parts to the mirror training method. They are:

i. Become a mentor or a figure to look up to. This is done by modifying your character and lifestyle to reflect strong attitudes and behavioral patterns that you want to imbibe to the dog.

ii. Train the dog using the clicker or the positive reinforcement method. Shaping is strongly advised since it helps the dog to recall actions that attract rewards.

iii. Allow the dog to carry out activities that make it a dog, like chewing, digging and barking.

Dominance or Alpha-Dog Method

This method is usually applied in training dogs that are bred to hunt, fight, pull, guard or catch prey. It is also used with dogs that are showing off aggressive and nuisance behavior.

Some dogs see their family as their pack. They begin to exhibit pack leader attributes over time. This gives rise to aggression and defying orders.

It involves the use of choke chains, e-collars, prong collars, quick hand squeezes, pinning to the ground and feeding the dog with an unwanted substance in large quantities.

Other activities involved in this method are the ‘dominance down’( making the dog lie on her side), the ‘alpha roll’ (making the dog lie on her back and pinning her), growling back at the dog, yelling and spraying with a water pistol.

This method is not always advised for domestic and errand dogs.

Electronic Method

This is the use of electronic collars to train a dog. Electronic collars pass electric currents to the dog’s neck to get their attention.

Slopehill Dog Training Collar, Waterproof Dog Shock Collar with Remote, Rechargeable Dog Collar with Vibration, Beep Shock Modes, Adjustable

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A signal is sent to the collar through a transmitter which prompts it to give the dog a mild electric shock. When the dog exhibits unwanted behavior, the shock is used to prevent the repetition of such actions.

This can be used to correct unwanted behavior when the dog is far away or can’t hear your commands. The purpose of the use of electronic collars is to make the dog believe that the negative actions it took brought about the discomfort.

Steps involved in the use of electronic collars are:

i. Learn how to use the collar before putting it on the dog

ii. Wear the collar around the dog’s neck at least a week before use. This is to make the dog get used to it and not to think that the collar is the source of the shock and tries to get rid of it. 

Make sure it’s not too tight or too loose. The prongs on the collar must touch the dog’s skin.

iii. Do not introduce a high stimulation level at first. Start with the lowest and monitor the dog’s response to each level.

iv. Start with commands that the dog is already familiar with. Use the collar only when it doesn’t respond. Then repeat the command after giving it some time to respond.

v. Reward good behavior with a pat, a treat, a gesture or verbal praise.

vi. Always hide when using the transmitter so that the dog won’t know you are the source of the shock. It works best if they believe that bad behavior is the cause of the shock.

The electronic method is advised when other painless methods have failed. The dog owners also need to train themselves to control their temper and be patient with their dogs.

Training an aggressive dog with the use of electronic collars is not always the best option. It is also important to buy a collar that makes a beep sound. The dog will associate the beep and the shock to bad behaviors. This makes it possible to stop stimulating the dog and to use only the beep after some time.

Scientific Dog Training Method

This involves the understanding of the nature, personality, and abilities of a dog which will enable a dog owner to modify her actions.

Dog trainers are constantly studying the psychology of dogs and discovering how best each dog can be made to conform to a specific lifestyle without rewards.

Studying a dog is done from different perspectives. They are:

i. The social viewpoint which studies the behavior of the dog in the presence of people, dogs, and other animals. It also studies how the dog influences others.

Emotional communication and body language of the dog is closely monitored to find out her intentions and state of mind. This could help in training the dog if it had a negative imprint as a puppy.

ii. The cognitive viewpoint which studies a dog’s present behavior concerning events in her past. The dog is seen as a medium that transmits information from the past.

These findings help the dog trainer to figure out the best way to create a learning pattern to suit the dog, with its past experiences in mind.

iii. The behavioral viewpoint which studies how a dog reacts to her environment and events. The events the precede a good or bad experience attract the same reaction from a dog as the event itself.

The use of a whistle before a meal will make a dog react to a whistling sound the same way it reacts to food.

iv. The biological viewpoint that studies how gender, hormones, genetics, age, and evolution affect the behavior of dogs.

It is believed that trained dogs are very likely to give birth to puppies that are easier to train. The sensory organs of the dog are different from that of the owner and are considered in the dog training activities.

Koehler Method

This involves the use of the dog’s choice and decisions to train her and modify her actions. It helps to teach the dog that discomfort can come from undesirable behaviors.

This method allows the dog to perform tasks willingly and happily. It also exposes the dog owner to so many behaviors that dogs wouldn’t express under strict monitoring and admonitions.

Training a dog with the Koehler method requires the owner to see the dog as an animal that is living, breathing, and has rights. Rewards are given for good behavior while bad behavior attracts restriction of movement or lack of attention from the owner.

The dog will likely repeat choices that attracted rewards and avoid choices that took your attention away from her.

The Learning Theory of Dogs

Dogs learn by associating an event or condition with another event. They learn by conditioning.

Conditioning is the process of linking a stimulus or a trigger to an action.

There are two forms of conditioning:

i. Classical conditioning

ii. Operant conditioning

Classical Conditioning

This is a form of learning that associates a conditioned trigger with an unrelated unconditioned trigger to get an unconditioned response.

A dog feels happy and salivates (unconditioned response) when food is brought to her. If a whistle (conditioned trigger) is blown before food (unconditioned trigger) is served, a dog will begin to salivate (conditioned response) when a whistle is blown even if food is not served.

If the conditioned trigger no longer brings about the happening of the unconditioned trigger, it becomes extinct over time.

If food is no longer served when the whistle is blown, the dog will stop salivating on the sound of a whistle after a while.

Extinction is the process of showing a decreased conditioned response when the unconditional trigger is no longer accompanying the conditioned trigger. The response gradually weakens and disappears over time.

If the whistle is blown before meals after a period of extinction, the extinct response can be recovered but not with the initial intensity.

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Operant Conditioning

This is also known as instrumental conditioning. It is a method that uses a series of rewards and punishments to imbibe some desirable behavior.

When a dog gets a treat (positive reinforcer) for sitting and a mild shock (positive punishment) from his collar for chewing on the sofa, she would avoid actions that bring about the shock.

Reinforcements and punishments are an important part of the operant conditioning system.

Reinforcements are events, happenings, and rewards that follow good behavior and establishes it. Punishments are events and happenings that follow bad behavior and decrease its reoccurrence.

Reinforcers are of two kinds:

i. Negative reinforcers that come as a treat or favorable condition given after an unpleasant behavior to stop it at that time.

If a dog is given a treat whenever he prevents a child from coming into the house, she begins to think that attacking children (negative behavior) brings treats (negative reinforcer).

ii. Positive reinforcers are rewards that are given after a positive behavior. A dog that receives a treat (positive reinforcer) after using her potty (positive behavior) will want to do it again.

Punishments are of two kinds:

i. Positive punishments that involve the application of an unfavorable condition in response to an unfavorable situation. This occurs when a dog is stimulated with an electric collar for chewing on a remote.

ii. Negative punishments involve the removal of a favorable condition in response to unpleasant behavior. When a dog is locked out of the family house and confined to her kennel for peeing on the sofa is a good example.

Dog Training Skills and Tricks

Training a dog can last for a lifetime. There are a lot of skills you can teach a dog, but some are more important and should be taught before others.

These skills and tricks could be imbibed in puppies and adopted adult dogs. They can also be taught to trained dogs sometimes, to keep them in their best behavior. Some of the skills are:

  • Listening to the clicker
  • Respond to name
  • Sit
  • Stand
  • Lie down
  • Touch
  • Fetch
  • Come
  • Heel
  • Take
  • Drop
  • Ring doorbell
  • Eliminate
  • Jump
  • High paw
  • Spin
  • Speak
  • Hush
  • Open and close a door
  • Walk backward
  • Yawn
  • Bring leash
  • Fetch items
  • Search for something
  • Put away toys
  • Bow
  • Catch
  • Switch light on and off
  • Crawl

Common Dog Training Mistakes

i. Trying to get a positive behavior from a dog by making her repeat a command over and over even when she doesn’t know what is required of her.

ii. Training a dog for a long period at a stretch in a day.

iii. Transferring aggression or venting out your frustrations on a dog during training.

iv. Using different training methods together. The dog will not be sure about what behavior brings rewards or punishments.

v. Misuse of the clicker and offering no rewards after each click.

vi. Repetition of commands and nagging vii. Training a dog in a specific environment

viii. Not practicing enough

ix. Giving the dog too many treats

x. Waiting for the dog to grow older before starting the training

xi. Not being consistent with commands. Giving treats when they obey or disobey a command.

xii. Wasting time after a click before giving a reward.

xiii. Calling a dog’s name before punishments.