If you think nutrition and exercise are the only basic needs of your dog, then think again. Training and socialization are also equally important needs that should be met. When it comes to training your dog, the earlier you start, the better.
Dog training can seem like an elaborate project and quite daunting at first. This happens especially if you are a first-time dog parent. However, if you break the training process into specific steps or stages, then it’ll become easier for you.
What Dog Training Means
In simple words, dog training can be defined as an act of planned communication with your dog to equip them with social skills. It’s not just a phase but a practice that you should follow daily. After the dog has learned the art of communication, they merely need to follow it for their entire life.
Socialization can help your dog to understand and adapt to everyday life, while training can help them communicate with people. With training comes the ability to practice effective communication. Basically, canine training is based on consistency, trust, and mutual respect for one another.
Canine training can begin quite early. If you bring home a dog when he/ she is a little puppy, then you should start training them before they reach eight weeks of age. If they’re adopted at a later stage, then you should start training them right away. Ideally, training should continue for their entire life.
When you first begin training, try to keep the sessions brief so that you don’t put a lot of pressure on your dog. You’d be able to gauge the length of the sessions depending on your dog’s energy and enthusiasm levels. You can slowly increase the time based on your dog’s performance and motivation. Don’t try to push them too much since it can have an adverse effect. If trained beyond their capabilities, dogs may feel completely sick of it and avoid training despite the treats or rewards for encouragement.
Phases of Dog Training
Although there are several opinions regarding the number of phases for training, four phases have been accepted as the standard. Different people use different names for each of the stages. Here we’ve included the most common names used for each stage. They are:
- Learning/Association Phase
- Generalization/Consistency Phase
- Correction/Proofing Phase
- Maintenance Phase
Let’s dig deeper into each of them.
This is the very first phase of your dog training when your dog acquires the behavior you want them to learn. The key words to remember in this stage are patience and precision.
The first step to making your dog follow your orders is by making them associate a particular behavior with your command. They’ll not be able to follow the words until they relate them with a specific command.
It’s also important to reach a certain energy level for training. That’s why you should never train your dog after they have finished their meal or before they have relieved themselves. This is because they feel nervous or uncomfortable and it’s best to avoid negative feelings during training.
If your dog is overactive, then you may need to drain out their energy a bit before training since it may lead to frustration otherwise. Engaging them in a game before training can equalize their energy for better focus throughout the session.
This stage is all about making your dog fluent in the behavior you’re teaching. The key words to remember in this stage are consistency and speed.
The one thing you must try and avoid at this stage is inconsistency. If you’re inconsistent with your training, then your dog will not learn to perform the desired action repeatedly. Consistency will not only help your dog make the behavioral association faster but also respond to commands appropriately.
The most important thing your dog learns in this phase is the generalization effect i.e. to not associate actions to a specific environment or situation but regard them as independent actions. This will happen by exposing them to different scenarios and introducing various levels of stress and distractions. For example, a dog may understand the cue “Sit” in their home environment as they have practiced it. However, they may not understand the same cue when given in a different environment, such as a lawn. In this case, you’ll have to train them to regard the cue as an independent action rather than one in a specific environment.
Sometimes generalization can take several amounts of repetitions in different environments to help them grasp the behavior. Ideally, you should start with an environment that has fewer distractions and gradually move on to one with more distractions.
This stage is all about patience and participation to help your dog overcome the distractions and completely internalize the correct behavior expected of them. Every dog learns at a different pace. So the corrections introduced at this stage will depend on the dogs and the situations. For example, if your dog acquires a certain behavior that needs to be stopped, then you can introduce corrections.
There are many potential errors that can occur during this phase such as:
- Going through the previous phases of training too fast. This will make your dog not feel confident with you and he will fail in performing the functions.
- Putting a lot of pressure on your dog and introducing higher levels of distractions than they are ready for.
- Introducing unnecessary corrections. You shouldn’t consider the inability to perform certain tasks as being disobedient. You can only consider them disobedient once they have inculcated the necessary behavior and not performing them on your command. Sometimes, they simply may not have inculcated the behavior as yet.
In the maintenance phase, the dog is capable of performing the desired actions in different locations and situations. The key point in this stage is for your dog to enjoy the activities.
This stage is often ignored because most parents feel that once the training session is over, then your dog will be prepared throughout life. However, that’s not true. You’ll have to keep practicing and training them throughout their life. This is because whatever you’re training isn’t natural behavior for them and lack of practice will cause them to lose the habit of acquired behavior.
This stage entirely focuses on maintaining the skills that your dog has acquired throughout their life. This is also a great stage to strengthen the relationship between you and your dog that you’ve been building throughout the training sessions.
Role of Dog Training Treats
Dog training treats are effective rewards to motivate your dog during training sessions. They not only help in infusing positivity into the training sessions but also helps in building trust between you and your dog.
Rewarding repeat behaviors is a good option because it helps your dog to associate a behavior with a positive consequence. However, you wouldn’t want your dog to depend on treats so you’ll also have to help them wean off the treats once they’ve learned the skills.
Here are a few points on how to make treats work during training sessions:
- At first, you should use the dog training treats every time the dog gets an action right without any interval. This will give them a positive affirmation that they’re doing it correctly. Once they become more confident, you can slowly increase the gaps between the treats. You can also switch the rewards for some variety. Finally, you can slowly reduce the treats and remove them altogether after your dog has learned the tasks.
- You can use the treats to link to a word. For example, when they perform a task correctly, you can praise them by saying “Good” or “Yes” and offer them a treat. Using the combination of the same words and treats will help them associate the behavior with the word and treat. Slowly try to wean them away from the treats and make them associate the behavior with the words.
- Treats should be used as a reward and not a bribe. For example, you should give them the treat only on the completion of successful behavior. Don’t use the treat as a bribe to lure them to perform a behavior.
Whether you’re training for the first time or have several years of experience, choosing the right treats will go a long way to reaching success in your sessions. However, it’s important to remember to choose healthy treats and avoid ones laced with preservatives or containing high amounts of calories. Finally, training your dog well will help them to adapt to their environment and socialize better.