Recess4Rover Blog

Less Commanding, More Rewarding

Excerpt from Chill Out Fido! by Nan Kené Arthur 

Dogs are persistently manipulated with verbal commands, equipment, and physical prompting to perform behaviors (such as pushing them into a sit) become reliant on their pet parents to do everything for them. This is equal to doing a child's homework for him or her. A child might get better grades if an adult did his homework, but he or she would not learn the skills needed to function successfully in the world. This same concept is also true for your dog. If you have been doing his "homework" via constant reminding or demanding obedience, telling him, "No," all the time, and/or using leash manipulations and physical prompts to keep him in line, he will not have learned the skills needed to function calmly in life. 

Dogs, like children, must learn to problem-solve when life comes at them, and providing your dog a motivation to perform behaviors through rewards will help him learn those skills. In order for that to happen, however, he will need different, and well-practiced behaviors that will give him the answer to the question, "What do I do when (fill in the blank) _______?" If your dog's current answer to that question is to spiral up and become wild, out of control, inattentive, or reactive, he has very few tools from which to choose. 

When your dog has a limited number of tools, he will continue to use the ones that are the most readily available and familiar since those are the easiest to grab. If your dog's behavior toolbox includes impulsive or reactive behaviors and little else, he has no choice but to use the tools that have served him best in the past. 

For training to be effective, your dog needs to learn how to handle different situations without grabbing the old tools from his toolbox. Those old tools will always be there, but as you teach your dog that he will be rewarded for calm and relaxed behaviors, those old tools will be buried deep at the bottom of the toolbox under all the new ones, making access to them difficult and unlikely. 

A Note on How Long to Train 

As you train with your dog, it is important that you don't overdo the amount of training. Science has shown that animals retain better when taught in short (five to fifteen minutes) spurts, rather than long, drawn out sessions. Dogs not only fill up on treats, they also get bored during long training sessions. If you over train, your dog will not be as excited about doing an exercise the next time. If you stop before he gets full or bored, leaving him wanting more, you will have a cooperative dog the next time you train him 

If you find yourself overtraining because you are excited about your dog's progress, simple count out 20-50 tiny treats and stop when they are gone. That will keep you on track with limiting the amount of time you train. 

For more advice on training your dog, purchase Chill Out Fido! from Whole Dog Journal.