Proper Training Ensures a Rewarding Lifetime Together

Article excerpt

Byline: Carol L. MacCabe Daily Herald Correspondent

Whether a puppy or an adult, whether from a responsible breeder or a rescue/shelter -- a dog is a member of your family. If you have a dog, or are planning on getting one, you want him to be well behaved -- for his sake, as well as yours.

There are different styles of training from which you may choose. Explore your options and decide what works best for you and for your pet. This will ensure a rewarding lifetime together -- for both of you.

Choosing a trainer

Be sure to ask for references. You should be able to call clients and ask how the dog is, if they (and the dog) enjoyed the training and is the dog still trained. A well-trained dog responds enthusiastically to the first command, even with distractions. Ask the trainer to see his dog and watch how they work together. Ask for a demonstration of what to expect when training is complete. Find out what techniques will be used and what the results are.

Positive reinforcement with clicker training

Positive reinforcement employs a

gentle method of training. It is the responsiveness of the dog, wanting to learn and willing to learn new things. No matter the age of the dog, he learns that his behavior determines whether or not he will get what he wants. This type of training concentrates on what you want your dog to do instead of punishing him when he does something wrong.

"We don't jerk on the leash; we don't push the rear end down to sit; we don't knee the dog in the chest when he jumps up," said Terri Tepper of The Cultivated Canine in Barrington. "We let "don't" extinguish by itself. We concentrate on what we want the dogs to do instead of what we don't want them to do."

This type of training has roots in B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning. If you want the dog to repeat a behavior, you "mark" it with something neutral, in this case a clicker. You immediately follow the clicker sound with a treat or something positive, like a toy or petting.

The click/reward protocol is a basic part of clicker training. A click means, "That's what I'm looking for and here's a reward so you'll remember". Immediately following the click, a reward is given. Tepper uses tiny pieces of chicken, bits of string cheese or small pieces of kibble, establishing a hierarchy of three to five treats that the dog really likes.

Any age dog can learn via clicker training. Five weeks is not too early and an old dog can learn new tricks, according to Tepper. Pet owners as young as four years old can learn how to use clicker training for their dog.

Tepper stresses Four D's in training: Dependability, Distraction, Duration and Distance.

Dependability is when the dog does a behavior 80 percent of the time. Then a cue, such as a word or hand signal is added. Now when cued, the dog will perform the behavior; soon the clicker will no longer be necessary.

Distraction raises the criteria -- will the dog do the behavior when there is a distraction? The behavior is now taught with distractions (other people, other animals, noises, etc.).

Duration means how long the dog will maintain the behavior. For example, if the dog is told "sit", he learns to sit until another cue is given. This can be very hard for a dog.

Distance means that from wherever you are when you request a behavior, the dog will listen and obey.

Good observation skills are essential when using clicker training.

"It has been my experience that quiet, gentle training usually using a clicker to mark a wanted behavior not only gets quick results, but results that the dog does not forget," summarized Tepper. "Dogs love the training, as do the owners, and it is a type of training the whole family can quickly learn along with their dog. It's a win-win with positive feelings."

For details, visit cultivatedcanine

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