Example: my client told her dog “down” and her dog looked at her. Then she repeated it. Then she used a hand signal. Then the dog downed. She lit up praising and petting. I asked her if she thought that was the best her dog could do. “No, not really,” she answered. Then I asked her if her dog knew that. The woman looked a little confused. “Well,” I explained, “if she gets the same praise for responding after two verbal commands and a hand signal as she gets for listening immediately, what are you teaching her? How can she tell which one you like better?”
What we do everyday with our dogs either makes things clearer for them or more confusing. As I wrote in My Smart Puppy: You get what you pet and you raise what you praise. That is a simple sentence that speaks the absolute truth.
Here are three things you can do to make life easier for your dog and with your dog:
- Think Big Picture
A client of mine is annoyed her dog jumps on the couch and climbs all over her when she eats in front of the TV. I pointed out that she laughs and wrestles with the dog when he does that when she isn’t eating. Even though she has fun doing that at those moments, that is not “big picture” thinking. If you don’t want your dog doing something some of the time, don’t reward it any of the time. Our dogs are as consistent as we are. Never more.
- Practice Productive Praise
Do you squander your praise? Giving it to your dog for just being cute? Then you dilute both its power and meaning. Instead, use it thoughtfully. Give it abundantly for jobs well done and save it for those times. Remember, if we praise everything then it will mean nothing.
- Add In Training
Training, like manners, is best practiced in real-life interactions rather than in formal sessions. Going to hand your dog a toy? Sit. Open the door? Sit. Take off the leash? Sit. Pet? Praise? Feed? Water? If you add in sit or down or come or wait to your daily interactions with your dog, you will instantly add in dozens meaningful communications a day. Dozens.
Dog training requires commitment and awareness but it needn’t be difficult or time consuming. You won’t be a perfect dog trainer. Your dog won’t be a perfect student. That’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect to make progress. You need try and you need to keep trying and believe me, that’s what all dog trainers do.