Let’s say you’re starting to understand the “most basic idea” about training that we spoke about in an earlier post. Basically, if something wonderful immediately follows a behavior, then your dog will be more likely to repeat the behavior: “If I come when I’m called, I get a nice cuddle and a tasty treat!” And now you’re trying it, and it isn’t working, and you’re thinking, “This is bullsh#t! I should just grab him and drag him over here!”
If you’re rewarding with treats, here are some possible problems:
- The treats aren’t tasty enough. If a friend says, “Hey, help me move this refrigerator and I’ll give you a stale Poptart”, how inviting is that? I mean, let’s at least have some pizza!!! (We’ll discuss some more specific treat advice in Part II of this post.)
- Your dog is too well fed. You need to pay attention to his food supply. We’re not talking about starving your dog, but you can’t give him all his food for free, then try to give him more as a reward. For fastest results, Sophia Yin says, “Throw away your food bowl!” Measure your dog’s food supply for the day, then dispense it in training exercises. If there’s leftover food at the end of the day, then give it to him. (If “fastest results” aren’t a big issue, then just give half his food in training, but don’t train him right after you feed him.)
- Your timing a/or treat delivery need work. You may say you’re doing exactly what you saw a trainer do. If you saw comparison video, you’d probably eat your words. “Hey, I’m swinging my golf club just like Tiger Woods…how come I’m not a PGA pro?” An experienced trainer may do 12-15 precise “reps” in the time it would take you to do 3 or 4, and the dog would get a very clear message each time. Getting some feedback lessons from a good trainer really helps! In the meantime, get the Sophia Yin DVD at the top of the Resources page. It teaches treat delivery as the athletic skill that it is.
- Someone else in the household is undoing your work. If you’re training your dog to sit for affection and your housemates are training her to jump up, you need to come to an agreement. It’s not fair to a puppy to encourage her to jump up, then punish her for it when she weighs 60 pounds. You need to be consistent, and your housemates need to help, or at least not hurt. Fail, and it’s the dog who suffers.
These are just a few reasons. We’ll talk more in Part II, but here’s the bottom line:
Humane training works! You just need to do it right!