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Dog training – simple but not easy.

I’ve owned and trained dogs for a long time now. I’ve spent years studying training and behaviour, changing my methods and improving my skills – but as a great trainer once said: “…the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know.”

When I read the training articles people write, I really feel for the newbie trainers trying to make sense of them. The articles make it all sound so simple! In theory it is – but in practice it often isn’t.

Why? Because when you write a training recipe, there is no way you can make allowances for all the variations the ingredients will give you.

Will the trainer understand exactly what you mean? Will the trainer follow the steps in order? Will the trainer have the skills to carry out the instructions effectively? What will the dog do? What will the trainer do if the recipe doesn’t work – once, twice, three times?

Dogs aren’t machines, neither are people. Holding a treat in front of the dog’s nose isn’t that simple – I’ve seen newbies hold it too low, too high, too far away, too close… as a result the dog doesn’t do what it is meant to.

The cold, hard truth is that training requires a level of knowledge and skill. Knowledge takes time to accumulate and skill takes practice. You have to pay attention to the dog’s behaviour and use that as feedback for your training. If the dog is getting it wrong, you are probably getting it wrong.

As US animal trainer Bob Bailey says, “Training is a mechanical skill.”

Learning to read the animal is critical, because training does come down to three main skills.

1. Know the EXACT behaviour you are training. (This is easier said than done too!)

2. TIME your feedback to give clear information to your learner. ("Yes" - that's it!)

3. In the early stages of training, REWARDS should be coming thick and fast. (If you make it too hard for the dog to earn the reward, they lose interest and stop trying.)

Don’t blame the dog or yourself for errors, just keep practising and refining your skills. Train in short sessions, so that you don't put yourself or the dog under too much pressure. Learning is hard work. It will take time. Be patient. Keep studying. Keep observing. Keep trying.

Ask experienced friends for help and search youtube for videos to watch, but pick and choose. The best trainers are fair to the dogs and the dogs are clearly enjoying themselves. Focus on learning how to teach the dog what you want the dog to do; that is what is important.

Try to enjoy your learning and the dog’s. Enjoy each other – that’s what dog ownership is all about.


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