Tricks of the Trade for Dog Training

As a dog owner you may have wondered from time to time what professional trainer’s secrets are.  Or you may have wondered while attending a class why some owners seem to be more successful than others.  The temperament and personality of an individual dog certainly come into play but there are some “tricks of the trade” that anyone can use to achieve better training success. 

1.  Rate of Reinforcement

The most effective trainers nearly always have a higher rate of reinforcement during teaching new behaviors than less effective trainers.  According to some informal studies successful trainers are giving reinforcement as much as five times more often than less successful trainers.  This means that when training your dog something new you should reinforce the right behavior (or parts of the right behavior) very often which makes the behavior easier for your dog to understand.

2.  Practice, Practice, Practice

Good trainers know that reliable response to commands is built on repetition.  Your dog will need to perform new behaviors many times in all different situations before the behavior can be considered reliable.  This means other than practicing at home or at class you need to “take the show on the road” and practice on walks, at parks, at pet stores and anywhere else you can think of.  This helps dogs to understand that the commands will be rewarded and must be followed no matter what is going on around them.

3.  Good Timing

When you click and give rewards has a huge impact on how quickly your dog learns new behaviors.  Your dog will repeat behaviors which are rewarding but if your timing is off they may not be the behaviors you were looking for!  A common example of this is when teaching Sit, owners click (or treat if not using a clicker) after the dog has gotten out of position.  Poor timing sends mixed messages to your pooch. Strive to click (or treat) while the behavior is happening.

4.  The 80% Rule

It’s difficult for many trainers, novice and experienced alike, to know when to move on to more advanced parts of a behavior.  A long time rule of thumb is you should be getting a correct response at least 80% of the time before moving on.  This means if you are practicing come and your dog comes eight out of ten times from a distance of twelve feet you are ready to try a longer distance.  If the correct response is under 80% however, you need to put in more practice before advancing.

5.  Keep It FUN!

Dogs respond better to training when it is presented to them as a game.  Don’t be afraid to get silly praising your dog.  Often people get a routine and stick with it practicing the same behaviors every day in the same order.  Boring!  Not just for the dog but for the trainer as well.  Switch it up, teach something new every couple days even if it’s just a trick.  Keep training sessions short but plan on having multiples each day.  Three 5 minute sessions are better than one hour long one when practicing at home one on one.  Avoid training when you are in a bad mood or if you or your dog aren’t feeling well. If you find you are becoming frustrated ask your dog to do something easy and end the session on a high note.



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