VK9 Owner Education
“Behind every well-trained dog is a 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, they are a big part of the solution too! We have all our new clients read this post to explain key terms and concepts so everyone is on the same page in training.
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 within .5 to 2.3 seconds, or about a second, the dog is best able to learn. That means if your dog does something you like, you should reward 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.
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. 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. A rule is a rule. A command is a command. Don’t let your dog play in the ‘gray’.
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 active 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.
Alright, switching gears a little bit let’s talk about Leadership and Affection. On a scale of 1-10 (1 minimal and 10 maximum), 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 as 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. 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, hands on hips) 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 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 five 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. Good examples of structured exercise are structured walks, hikes, bike rides, agility training, FitPAWS and treadmill training.
Preventing the Behavior > Stopping the Behavior
Too many owners waste valuable time and energy trying to stop their dogs from doing certain behavior (for example, barking for attention, charging the front door, jumping on house guests, chewing the living room rug) when 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’ll address the issues head-on with training!
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 and affection all need to be earned!
Written by Valor K9 Academy Co-owner and Head Trainer, Amy Pishner. You can reach Amy directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.