Be fair with your training. What do I mean by this? Many times people are so concerned with whether or not they are being nice to the dog (physically treating the dog well) that they forget that there are many factors that should be considered when starting to train their dog. One of the things I try to get our clients to think about is a a very simple progression of thought. It goes like this:
1) What is the word that my dog is hearing?
2) Does my dog understand the tools I am using to get their attention and reinforce good behavior?
3) Does my dog understand what is expected of him or her? This is perhaps the most important factor in our dog's ability to be successful and this is where I will spend just a little time talking about today.
Come, Sit, Down, and Heel are very common words that are associated with training and that many people use. Can your dog hear you say the word and have you built the appropriate association with it? For example it is very possible to teach your dog to lie down when you say sit or to sit when you say down. The meaning of the word is directly related to it's association with action and reward. If you say "down" and then reward your dog when they sit, chances are you can have them sitting when you say down and you will have a really fun dog trick to do at your next party. The important thing to remember is that your dog learned to sit when you say down and that you remain consistent when you are asking them to sit, wait, I mean down...see what I mean? So, in the end, say what you mean and mean what you say.
Treats and clickers are very common along with more traditional types of tools like special training collars. Does your dog understand them and how they are being used and reinforced? Many people try all sorts of different tools for only a short amount of time. Many people will begin training with one tool only to abandon it a week later because there was no obvious change in behavior or the handler's ability to gain obedience from their dog. Also common, is not receiving the right instruction on how to use certain tools or even how to use treats when training. All this can cause your dog to become confused. Imagine starting to learn Spanish and then a week later being expected to begin learning German? Confusing, right?
And this leads us to expectation. Our inconsistencies while attempting to train our dogs is the number one thing that impacts their success. It is not fair to our furry best friends when we are not consistent with their training. They (and we) can become confused, frustrated, and many times quit before any real progress is made simply because they (and we) have no real sense of what they should be paying attention to. It is not fair to establish rules and consequences without first teaching dogs what is expected of them. This takes time, and consistency over time, to accomplish lasting results with your dog. A dog that understands what the word "come" means and meets the expectation quickly for an agreed upon reward will be safe and happy in being compliant. The hard part for us humans is to not change what the word "come" means.
That might sound funny but from a dog's perspective when they hear the word "come", often times they know that they have several options for getting the job done. They can "come" all the way to you, stop short (two to three feet away), sail past you, or ignore you. Many dogs who hear the word "come" in the living room get a cookie but when they hear that same word at the dog park, they get their leash put on them and the fun stops. What would you do if you were a dog? It is important to teach your dog that every time they hear the word "come" that the same expectation is met and the same reward will be given every single time.
This is what I usually mean when I am teaching our clients to be fair with their training. It is unfair to expect something from our dogs that we have not put the time, energy, and effort into teaching and teaching thoroughly. So be a good friend to your furry friend and make sure you set them up for success.