Dog Training Basics

In this first part, we’ll go over the fundamentals that I always teach to new students during introductory lessons. This is perhaps the most important part, and every other part of your dog training skills are built upon this foundation.

Remember to follow the three primary principles of dog training:

1. Timing:

It's scientifically proven that we have approximately one second to influence a dog's behavior. This means you have one second to reward your dog for a behavior you would like repeated, and one second to correct your dog for a behavior you would not like repeated.

If the reward or the correction does not come within one second, then your dog will not make the connection. The moment your dog does a behavior you are trying to capture, you have to either deliver a primary-reinforcer or a conditioned-reinforcer within the first second. The same principle applies for actions you would not like your dog to repeat. The moment your dog does the behavior in question, you have to deliver either a primary correction or a conditioned correction within a second of your dog doing that behavior.

Here is an example of how important timing is. Let's say you are doing a down-stay with your dog and you’re in a wide- open space like a football field. While you're walking away from your dog across the field, your dog breaks the down-stay without you seeing. Your dog then decides to run to you, and when you turn around and see your dog running at you, you then correct your dog for breaking the down-stay. Even though you believe that you corrected your dog for breaking a down- stay, you just corrected your dog for coming to you. Since you did not see your dog break the down-stay, you should not have corrected the dog. Instead, you should have rewarded your dog for coming to you.

2. Motivation:

Your dog will always do whatever is most motivating. For example, if you're trying to get your dog to perform a sit and he is surrounded by his favorite thing, which is rabbits, he's going to be more motivated to chase the rabbits compared to his motivation to work for your treat.

It's important to keep in mind that dogs can be motivated by many things. They can be motivated to access something pleasant, or they can be motivated to prevent something unpleasant. By making sure that you always provide the most motivating factor for your dog, you will ensure reliability in your dog’s obedience.

There are four ways you can motivate a dog to perform a behavior: You have food, toys, affection and force. It's important you learn to use all four types of motivation for your training. Another factor to keep in mind is that speed is based on motivation; the more motivated your dog is, the faster your dog will perform the desired behavior.

3. Consistency:

This one is paramount, because even if you have bad timing and wrong motivation, if you are consistent, your dog will still be able to learn. You also want to keep in mind to always stay consistent with what you want and expect from your dog. If you let your dog jump on the furniture one day, don't correct your dog for jumping on the furniture the next day. If you or inconsistent, you will create stress and confusion for your dog.

You also want to be consistent with the way you say your markers as well as your commands. Remember, your dog doesn't see S. I. T., your dog hears a sound. So, you want your commands always to sound the same, meaning you shouldn’t constantly be changing the rise and inflection of your commands.

On this topic, let’s now discuss predictability. This word is not part of the primary principles, but it's one you always need to keep in mind when it comes to dog training. Always think about your actions as you train your dog, and if they are becoming predictable or not.

You can use this to improve the training process, or by contrast it can actually create problems. For example, let's say you love taking your dog to the beach, and this is an activity that your dog enjoys. Every time you are ready to leave, you call your dog to you. Eventually, your dog will learn not to come to you when you call at the beach because it's now predictable that when you call your dog—that it's time to leave, so this would make it tough to get your dog to come to you— because the dog doesn’t want to leave the beach.

Instead, you would always want to play “come when called” games at the beach that predict a release and a reward, like a ball. This way, your dog will enjoy coming to you when called. It's a simple concept: if your dog can predict something, then your dog can learn it, just like obedience. You say the command, and then you show your dog the physical cue. This way, the dog learns that when you say a command, it is then followed by the action that gets the dog into the position. Once the dog knows this, then you no longer need the physical cue, because it is now predictable for your dog.

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