Basic Training – Practical
This module helps you to put theory into practice. Learn how to clicker train and use reward-based training to best effect in real life situations. You’ll learn basic commands to stand any dog owner in good stead. (Advanced commands are covered in Module 5.)
3.1 Parenting your dog
3.2 Clicker training
3.3 Crate training
3.4 House breaking
3.8 Reacting to bad behavior
3.1 Parenting your dog
Training is a lot about attitude, tone of voice, and body language. For example two people can say the word “Sit” in completely different ways: One person has the dog sitting with a wagging tail, the other has the dog tail tucked, head bowed, hoping he did enough to avoid punishment.
We want dog training to be an entirely paws-itive experience, so keep the following in mind:
- Little and often: Don’t overtire your pupil, especially if they’re a puppy. At least two to three sessions a day of around 5 -20 minutes each, is a great starting point.
- Keep it fun:Make learning a game by using favorite toys to train, and rewarding the dogs with walks and play.
- Be firm but fair: Use a tone of voice that denotes you expect to be obeyed but love the dog’s company.
- Praise the positive: Be lavish with praise when the dog does what you want.
- Correct gently: It’s perfectly fine to make a brief “Uh oh” noise (or whatever sound appeals to you!) when the dog makes a bad decision (such as standing up before being released from “Down”.) This helps him understand when and where he went wrong. No need to dwell on it though: Just make a point and move on.
- End on a positive note: If the dog starts making mistakes, stop! Do one final command that you know the dog has mastered, “Sit!”, so as to end on a high
- Parent your pup: Remember, your dog has a child-like mentality so guide him with parental-like concern to learn right from wrong.
3.2 Clicker Training
Clicker training helps your dog understand what it was he did that was so great, so that he can repeat it. Clicker training is popular because the dog knows the click-clack means he earned a reward, and tells him exactly what for.
You don’t have to use a clicker to train a dog, but it helps!
Clicker training introduction
Clicker training hinges on dog’s only linking action to immediate rewards. Thus, if you want the dog to repeat an action (for example “Sit”) give the reward the split second his butt hits the ground.
To be effective a dog must receive the reward within 2 seconds of the action.
So if the dog sits and you give a treat 10 seconds later, the dog won’t make a connection (but thanks anyway for the tasty snack.) With a clicker the action is labelled to the split second, as a down payment on a treat.
If this sounds confusing think of a clicker as a camera, with the click-clack sound being the shutter opening to take a photograph. In other words, the clicker captures the exact moment of the desired behavior and marks it out for a reward.
First teach the dog to link click-clack to good things.
Click-clack means a reward
This is super easy, all you need are a pocketful of treats, a clicker, and a dog.
- Using small treats, scatter 4 or 5 on the floor.
- At the exact second the dog hoovers up each treat, press the clicker.
- Scatter another 4 or 5.
- Click once as he eats each one.
- Now, hold a treat in your hand and draw his attention to it.
- As he moves in, press the clicker and let him have the treat.
- Repeat, holding a treat in your hand.
- Click each time he takes a treat.
- Then try a sneak ‘early’ click when there’s no treat. See if he looks to your hand.
- If he does, reward him as he linked the click to a treat. (If not, don’t worry, keep going with the earlier steps.)
- Keep reinforcing what he’s learnt by repeating the above.
Click marks the moment
The next step is simple; it’s to mark the moment (or action) you want pup to repeat.
For example, you’re teaching sit.
You move the treat over pup’s head.
The moment his butt hits the ground, click.
Putting it all together
Your dog now sits when you click. Great but…the clicker is only one sound…so how can you teach multiple commands? How do you teach him the difference between “Sit” and “Down” for example?
You label actions with a cue word e.g. “Sit”. The cue word names the action you expect from pup, while the click tells him he did well.
Each time you click, say “Sit”.
Also, once he’s doing this nicely, stop rewarding every click so that he doesn’t take the treats for granted. By not rewarding every click his thinking goes something like:
I sat, but she didn’t give me a treat. Perhaps it wasn’t a good sit or she didn’t see it. I better try harder next time.
Once a dog learns a command, start phasing out the clicker. Do this by rewarding less frequently, say every 4 to 5 clicks, and then, only occasionally. Thus, even dogs taught using a clicker are eventually weaned off being clicked all the time.
3.3 Crate Training
A crate is your dog’s den, where he feels safe and secure. Crates are a great aid for housebreaking as pups are less likely to soil their den. A tired dog retreats to their crate to get away from children or rest. The most important thing is that a crate is never, ever used as a prison or a means of punishing the dog. It should only ever be associated with safety and happiness.
- Crate size: Big enough for the dog to stand up without banging his head and lie down with legs extended but NO bigger (this encourages toileting in the crate).
- Make if comfy: Soft blankets and a T-shirt smelling of you.
- Make it snuggly: Cover one end with a blanket to make it more cave like.
- Lace it with treats: Leave the door open and puts treats or a favorite toy inside for the dog to discover.
- Feed him in the crate with the door open.
- Once he’s happy to pop in to check out the treats, close the door for a few seconds while he’s eating a meal.
- Increase the amount of time the door is closed. Praise his calm behavior. Only open the door when he’s calm. (Letting him out when he’s crying rewards crying, which makes him more likely to do it again.)
- Shut the crate and leave the room briefly. Return and reward him.
- Increase the amount of time you’re away while he’s in the crate and, bingo, before you know it he’s crate trained.
But remember, the crate is a place of safety and comfort. Never shut a dog in the crate as a punishment.
3.4 House Breaking
Be patient: This can take weeks
Be consistent: Or pup won’t learn the rules.
Happy potty training involves telling the pup where he’s meant to toilet. You can only achieve this by:
a) Limiting accidents – This means keeping an eye on the pup or popping him in a crate.
b) When he goes in the right spot, being there to reward him – Taking him out every 30 mins and staying with him.
Imagine if someone gave you $500 every time you did the washing up. You’d be pretty keen to do the dishes, right?
It’s the same idea with a puppy and potty training. Once the dog realizes he gets a treat just for emptying his bladder, he’ll save everything up to ‘spend’ it for a treat.
Teaching a pup the link is easy-peasy. The golden rules are:
- Take him out every 30 minutes, first thing on waking, last thing before bed, and 15 minutes after eating. (This is all about being in the right place at the right time, in order to praise him.)
- Keep pup on the leash, don’t talk to him (no distractions) and time 5 minutes.
- If he toilets, click and reward, and heap praise upon that adorable fuzzy head.
- If he doesn’t toilet after 5 minutes, go back inside (no play, he was there for business, not pleasure) but go out again in 30 minutes.
OK, so now to reduce the accidents indoors:
- Keep pup under surveillance at all times, by crating him or keeping his leash on your wrist.
- At the slightest sound of sniffing to toilet, whisk him outside.
[For house soiling problems see Module 4.8]
3.5 Teaching “Sit”
Teaching a rock solid “Sit” could save your dog’s life. Imagine him running toward a road…commanding him to sit could avert disaster. It’s also a great way of calming an over-excitable dog because asking him to sit at regular intervals helps him to cool off. It’s even a useful command for aggressive dogs, as regular training and expecting him to obey sends a powerful message about being in control.
- You need a dog and several small treats.
- Hold a treat slightly above the dog’s nose.
- Once you have his attention, arc the treat up and over his head.
- As he follows the treat with his nose, his back end automatically drops down.
- At the same time say “Sit.”
- As his butt hits the ground, click the action.
- Let him have the treat.
- Once you notice his backend starting to drop at the mere mention of “Sit” you know he’s got it.
3.6 Teaching “Down” or “Drop”
This is another useful basic command, where the dog lies on his belly waiting for your next command.
This is easily taught in a similar way to “Sit” using a treat as a lure.
- Have the dog “Sit.”
- Move the treat forward and down, such that to follow it the dog’s forelimbs shuffle down.
- Say “Down” (or your preferred cue, such as “Drop”).
- As soon as the dog’s belly in on the ground with the dog in a lying position, click and reward.
3.7 Teaching Recall
[We cover problem recalls in Module 4.13, so be sure to read that as well.]
When a very young puppy feels uncertain of something, they have a strong instinct to run back to their mother and safety. You can use this instinct, by stepping away from the puppy and slapping your legs in a playful manner, while saying “Here” or “Come”.
If the puppy is a pro and runs to you straight away, then click and praise. You can also make this more likely to happen by dropping a super-tasty treat on the floor at your feet. When pup comes to pick it up, show them another treat, and call “Come” while running away a short distance. The puppy should bound after you, eager for the treat.
Remember to give your recall command word, as soon as the pup sets off in hot pursuit, and give them lots of praise when they get to you. In other words, make it huge fun to run to mom.
In the older dog, avoid the scenario of constantly shouting a command, which they completely ignore. Practice the exercises above, but only call once and if they don’t come then turn your back and ignore them (obviously only do this in a safe place such as a back yard.) Let them see they only get your attention when they listen.
When out and about keep the dog on a long line for these exercises. If they come great, if not reel them in but don’t reward or acknowledge (the dog was neither good nor bad, so he doesn’t get a reward or punishment).
Remember: Always make it fun to run to mum! [And review Module 4.13 for problem recalls.]
3.8 Reacting to Bad Behavior
When a dog makes a mistake or behaves badly, it’s tempting to punish them. However, from a training perspective this is likely to backfire. This is because dogs are more likely to link the punishment to you, than the action. The dog then becomes fearful or anxious around you, and some behaviors will continue when you are not around (such as house soiling).
It is, however, appropriate to give guidance when a dog makes a bad or wrong decision during training. A classic example is the dog that gets up before being released from his “Stay”. How is he supposed to know he did wrong, unless he gets some guidance?
The answer is a short but sweet noise of disapproval. Choose your own sound, such as “Uh oh” (this is good because it’s not a word the dog hears in everyday speech, and is therefore more likely to pay attention). You can use a short sharp “No!”, but there’s a chance it may not be so effective because the dog hears it in conversation and it has meaning outside of training which dilutes its effectiveness.
Once you’ve given the guiding comment, lighten up. And if continued correction is appropriate, withdraw your attention by turning your back or going into another room for two minutes. Then return, and try again.