How training will help get the best out of your dog
- Credit: Archant
A dog can be a man’s (or woman’s) best friend, but it helps if owners and dogs can work together to make the most of their relationship. Expert training is the answer.
At what point do you panic? Your dog has disappeared into a wood and is not responding to your call; you go into the wood, but can’t find her; you retrace the walk back to the car – no sign; you go back...
After 25 minutes of irritation, followed by concern, building to near-hysteria, you spot her in a beet field. Now she comes to recall, butter wouldn’t melt and you can’t resist that wagging tail and broad grin. Take a treat, you rascal.
Even the best-trained dogs need to be kept at the top of their game, and regular wellie walks without some revision – revisiting the basics learnt and enjoyed in puppy class and beyond – can result in situations every owner would want to avoid.
Statistics are sparse, but it is estimated than fewer than 20% of dog owners take their pooches to training. These owners run the risk of fostering unwanted behaviours and may find it difficult to live with their dogs bad habits - and they miss out on a valuable bonding experience which is such an enjoyable part of owning a puppy or dog.
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Well organised and structured puppy classes help puppies learn good social skills with other dogs and help them to pick up the early learning essentials such as sit and stay, lead walking and recall, as well as advice on house training. Even if you have a rescue dog or an older one that’s not doing as you ask, the best trainers will be able to get them back on track. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
All the experts agree there is never a need to train using fear, force or punishment to teach a dog to do as you ask. Instead, the advice is to show your dog what you would like them to do and reward them for delivering the right behaviour; that way your dog enjoys learning, and like us when we enjoy something we are much more likely to repeat the behaviour. This also has the added benefit of your dog associating you with fun activities, achievement, and their favourite rewards, all of which help develop a deeper dog-owner bond.
Training should be fun for both of you, based on positive rewards. You should show your dog what you are trying to teach, never use force or physically threaten your dog. Be patient, keep the cues simple and consistent and always help your dog to achieve by setting them up for success.
To understand the detail of puppy and dog obedience training, we spoke to Zoe Willingham, of Best Behaviour Dog Training, who runs classes in Ipswich and Stowmarket. As a qualified behaviourist with numerous leading industry accreditations Zoe is eminently qualified to explain best practice.
“This is one I’m always asked about,” she says. “Take a treat and hold just above your dogs nose, gently lure the treat over your dog’s head until their bottom touches the floor. Say good and reward.
To progress to a stay ensure you have a sit on a verbal or visual cue and gradually start to move away from your dog, always returning before they lift their bottom off the ground, say good and reward. With puppies this can take a little while, but be patient.
“Teach your dog that being close is beneficial,” says Zoe. “Treat them for looking at you and not pulling ahead, they soon learn that it’s worth their while to be by your side. Start walking, rewarding for a nice loose lead along the way, then change direction and continue rewarding for the loose lead. Don’t be stingy with rewards when training this behaviour, as rewards will help your dog learn quicker and ensure they are offering you what you want.
“Often we have high expectations of puppies and dogs in a short timescale. I like to make sure that classes are tailored for dogs of all ability and skills to succeed.”
Zoe says: “Your dog must learn there’s a reason to come back, so always reward your dog and they will think coming back to you is the best thing in their world. Your dog needs to be interested in what you’re doing and feel it’s better to be with you, a human, than following the scent of that rabbit.
Zoe says: ‘A reliable recall is not just about the simple behaviour of coming back, it’s also an amalgamation of lots of other training that teaches great communication between you and your dog”
As well as your obedience basics, Zoe also teaches some very clever behaviours that you would never think to teach to your dog, or even know where to start, but they come in handy in every day puppy and dog life.
“Put a treat in between your fingers and hold your hand to the side of your dogs head, as your dog touches your hand with their nose use the cue ‘touch’, and as they make the touch say good and reward, Once your dog understands what to do remove the food between the fingers and repeat asking for a touch, again say good and reward when they do it ” she says. “Let’s say your dog’s got their nose in the dishwasher – and you need them to move out of the way. Ask for a touch and direct them away from the dishwasher!
This exercise, involves calling your dog in between your legs to face the same direction as you, “You call ‘peek-a-boo’ and your dog appears in a sitting position between your legs and you know where they are,” says Zoe. “It also a great way to end a recall and put a lead back on, and examine your dogs eyes and ears, and most importantly dogs just love doing it.”
For Zoe, dog training is about forming a great dog-owner relationship, allowing owners and dogs to enjoy being together for the rest of their lives. Training develops a great relationship and a great relationship develops great training.