VK9 Owner Education: Key Terms & Concepts
“Behind every well-trained dog is a confident, well-educated owner.” Amy Pishner
A big part of what we do here at Valor K9 Academy involves owner education. Our goal is to not only train your dog, but also teach you how to better understand and communicate with your dog. While owners are sometimes part of the problem, you are also a big part of your dog’s training and behavior solution. In this blog post, we’re going to explain some key terms and concepts to make sure we’re all speaking the same language – the language of dogs! Have a look and as always, feel free to comment with any questions you have. We’re here to help, and you can reach us anytime!
Key Terms and Concepts
Timing is a crucial factor in dog training because dogs learn through association. Research has shown that if you react to something a dog does with .5 to 2.3 seconds, or about a second, the dog is best able to learn. That means if your dog something you like, you should praise him right away. On the transverse, if your dog does something you don’t like, you should ignore or correct (punish) him right away. This helps your dog understand very clearly what you like and what you don’t like. We use clickers and verbal markers in training to help simplify training and help owners have good timing. The better your timing, the more quickly your dog will learn.
The Marker System
To aid in the communication process, we use something called markers. Markers are basic words used to communicate with dogs. In the Marker System, there are four words: Yes, Good, Nope and Free. “Yes” means the dog has performed the action requested and will be rewarded within .5-2.3 seconds. “Good” tells the dog to keep doing what he’s doing and he will be rewarded. “Nope” means the dog has performed an incorrect or unwanted behavior and will be ignored or corrected (depending on what you’re working on). “Free” releases the dog from a command and has a double meaning as an implied recall. When you free your dog, we teach your dog to come to you and sit in front of you for a reward (food or praise). Think of it as “you’re free to come” and not “you’re free to go.”
Ahh, yes, consistency. Of all the things in dog training, this is usually the toughest for dog owners and consequently, it’s one of the key factors to success in training. Consistency means follow through. Give a command once then follow through. Establish house rules and stick to them. As part of your homework for your first day of training, we recommend coming up with a list of house rules for your dog. Examples are: no going on the bed, stay off the couch, don’t beg from the table, no barking at the mailman etc. Set your rules, and then we will give you the tools and skills needed to follow through. The biggest takeaway on consistency in regards to obedience training is that once you’ve taught your dog to do something, such as walk on a loose leash, be consistent. Don’t let your dog drag you out to car, and then expect him to heel into Valor K9 Academy. Be consistent. A rule is a rule. A command is a command. Eliminate all gray areas for your dog.
Life is not and should not be a free-for-all for your dog. He needs rules, he needs boundaries, he needs structure. Structure is our way of teaching dogs how to live harmoniously with us in a pack environment. The three biggest forms of structure are: the crate, the place bed and tethered to you. In the beginning of training, you are going to tether (leash) your dog to you in the house. Tethering allows you to establish boundaries and rules with your dog and prevents your dog from having too much freedom. Freedom, especially for high energy dogs, is not a good thing. Once we teach your dog the Place command, the place bed will be another structure option for your dog. And then, of course, the crate is a third option. When properly trained, the crate provides a safe, den-like atmosphere for dogs to relax and unwind. Even if you don’t want to crate your dog on a regular basis at home, I recommend crate training your dog so that if you travel the crate is a viable option for your dog to be in at friends’ houses or hotel rooms. It also helps for dogs who board regularly because it’s familiar to them.
Alright, switching gears a little bit let’s talk about Leadership and Affection. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being not at all and 10 being a lot), how much leadership do you provide to your dog? Write that number down somewhere. And now, on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself in terms of affection? Write that number down as well. Now compare your two numbers. Most people admit to being a 2-4 in leadership and an 8-10 in affection. There’s a problem there: Too much affection without leadership is a recipe for disaster. All too often, we love to love our dogs, and we fail to lead them. Your goal is a dog owner should be to find balance: If you’re a 3 in leadership and a 9 in affection then you need to bump up the leadership factor and cut back on affection (like, a lot!).. As dog trainers, we’re a 10 and a 10 on that scale. We’re big on affection (when the time is right) and big on leadership. Our dogs know exactly what’s allowed and what’s not, and they look to us for guidance and information.
A big part of enhancing your relationship with your dog involves how you present yourself to your dog. Are you confident and assertive, willing and able to lead? Or are you unstable, weak-minded and insecure? The way you carry yourself (head up, shoulders back!) has a big impact on your dog’s perception of you. Carrying yourself with confidence, and believing you are in charge and you call the shots, will help your dog to easily fall into a followership role. But remember, while you may think you’re good at reading body language, your dog is a body language expert. You cannot outwardly pretend to lead, you must lead from within.
Notice I didn’t say just exercise. There’s a difference between letting your dog run around in the backyard barking at neighbor dogs and taking your dog for a 5 mile bike ride. One of them winds your dog up…and the other one decompresses him both physically and mentally. Your dog needs physical exercise, mental stimulation and regular training. Start thinking of ways to give your dog structured exercise instead of playing fetch or wrestling in the living room. Good examples of structured exercise are structured walks, hikes, bike rides, agility training, FitPAWS conditioning, treadmill training and more.
Preventing the Behavior > Stopping the Behavior
Too many owners waste valuable time and energy trying to stop their dogs from doing certain behavior (barking for attention, going nuts at the doorbell, jumping on house guests) when in reality prevention is the key to success. By providing your dog with physical exercise, mental stimulation and training, combined with structure, leadership and consistency, you’re going to see so many problem behaviors disappear organically. And if they don’t disappear, we’re going to put a plan in place that prevents those behaviors from happening in the first place. Behaviors such as boredom barking, play biting, leash grabbing and all that nonsense will be no more!
Last but certainly not least is motivation. Motivation is one of the most important concepts in dog training. A motivated dog can do just about anything! There are two reward categories for dogs: primary reinforcers and secondary (or conditioned) reinforcers. Food is a primary reinforcer as dogs are hardwired to work for food, and anything we condition dogs to like (praise, petting, smiling, eye contact, physical touch, even the clicker) is a secondary reinforcer. An important acronym to remember is NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free). Keep that in mind as we work together to train your dog. Food, praise, affection –even belly rubs– all need to be earned!
Last but not least are some training session tips! Remember these three things: Training sessions short be short (2-10 minutes), simple (2-3 training topics, e.g., The Name Game, Sit/Stay and Place) and done often (5-10x a day). You’ll want to invest about 30-60 minutes per day into training your dog for optimal results and success. It’s best to have a game plan – a clear vision – of what you want your dog to learn/do/accomplish in the training session. If you know what you want, it’s much easier to train! Some people also find it helpful to keep a training journal and jot down things like training session date, time, duration, topics covered and how the session went (both good and bad). It’s a great way to track progress!
Valor K9 Academy is a veteran-owned dog training company located in Spokane, WA, and Chattanooga, TN. We specialize in puppy training, basic to advanced off leash obedience and behavior rehabilitation training. We offer private lessons, group training and board & train programs. Our methods are customized to each dog, and we use a balanced approach to training. Our goal is to exceed your expectations and help you have a well-behaved dog who’s enjoyable to be around! To contact Valor K9 Academy for training, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll connect you with a trainer who can help!
April 19, 2018