Learn to teach
Here is some basic but very effective advice when working with your dog…
Break it down
Decide what you want to teach your dog and break the behaviour up in smaller, easily achievable bits. If you have a clear plan, you will be able to give clear information to your dog which will help him achieve the goal. Take your time with each step and only move onto the next step if you are 100% sure your dog can perform the step you are on. Write the steps down if it helps, but write them down in pencil because your plan must be flexible.
Keep it short
Dogs will enjoy training sessions more if they are kept short, a five-minute training session will have more impact than a 30-minute training session. Keep it positive and be generous with rewards.
Keep it easy!
Make sure you always start training your dog in a low distraction environment where nothing can draw his attention away from his focus on you. You can add distraction in small bits as your dog gets better at the behaviour you have been teaching. If your dog seems distracted, confused or unmotivated, use that information to set the next session up for success. What can you change?
Take a step back. Increase the value of his reward.
It’s really important to give your dog as much information as he needs to achieve the step you are on. Keep in mind that saying “No” or repeating the cue ten times is not helpful at all. It is actually very frustrating to your dog because he does not know what he SHOULD do. Take a breather and break the step up in smaller achievable increments. Focus on what you want the dog to do and reward increments towards that behaviour. Like playing the hot or cold game, and when he is hot he earns a reward.
Ever heard of latent learning or a mindful pause? This is when your brain is processing the new information you have just received and finding relevant places to store the information. These breaks between learning sessions are extremely important for the animals we teach as well. You will very often find that your dog understands something much better the next day because he had time to think about it.
If you are not having fun, chances are your dog is not having fun either. If you are feeling under the weather or having a frustrating day, put the training aside and spoil your dog with a food dispensing brain toy instead. Your dog will know something is up with you immediately and will probably feel a bit anxious if you are having to do training then. Animals cannot learn in stressful situations.
Film yourself during a training session so that you can observe your own body movements. We often come across as overbearing and intimidating without realising it because we are so focused on getting the dog to do what we want. Are you leaning over your dog? Is your body blocking your dog’s movements? Are you giving hand signals and verbal cues at the same time? Is your treat delivery speed and style effective enough?
It takes time to coordinate all these things but it helps to be aware so that you can troubleshoot issues as you work with your dog. Just be mindful about how your dog responds during training sessions and try something else, if Plan A did not work.