We all want our dog to learn how to behave. We want to be able to take him out and public and trust that his behavior will at the very least be tolerable. We don’t want him to attack other dogs, pull too hard on the leash, drag us around, or try to devour small children. We love our dogs, and thus we are apt to look past certain behaviors in the hopes that he isn’t offending anyone.
When we bring our new puppies home in a flurry of anticipatory excitement, we understand that part of our job as responsible pet ownership is of course, teaching him to listen. Few of us really acknowledge let alone consider which method we are going to use to housebreak our beloved pup and what methodology we are going to utilize to turn Baby Rex into a socially acceptable dog.
Yet these considerations are important. It can cause confusion and confliction if you approach puppy training without any formulated notion of how and why you are going to teach what you’re going to teach. So let’s look at the options briefly to get you started in this important decision.
There are three basic categories of training. We tend to either focus on behavior training, obedience training, or activities training. Each type of training produces different results, and while no one type is more important than the rest, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive either.
Behavior training covers all those little basics we teach them so that they are generally good dogs. We teach them where to go to the bathroom and not to eat the neighbor’s cat and hopefully how to go for a walk without pouncing upon every dog along the way. Behavior training includes whether they can sleep on the bed or climb all over the furniture and not begging for scraps at the table. Behavior training is important because it makes the puppy we just brought home someone we can live with
Obedience training focuses more on specific tasks which we ask them to do, sometimes to enhance their behavior. When we teach them to sit, stay, or heel we are working with them on their ability to become obedient dogs and listen to commands. While obedience training can enhance behavior training, a dog who has only mastered obedience training can still be a terribly behaved dog. He may very well sit on command and then go running off five minutes later to torment the neighborhood children who just wanted to ride their bikes down the street.
Activity training encompasses anything above and beyond the basic skills and behaviors we teach that make our dogs good and happy guys we want to be around. Activity training involves everything from agility and obstacle course training to search and rescue to hunting and herding. Companion dogs and guide dogs are some of the most elite activity trained dogs in the class, but any dog can be taught to do something useful if an owner chooses. For a dog to undergo activity training he must be proficient at both obedience and behavioral skills first.
So now that we understand what category or categories that Baby Rex’s training is going to fall under, we should have an idea of how we are going to go about teaching him the things he needs to know to no only survive in our world, but to be pleasant while doing it. There are three main types of training as well. Just like human learn better through various methods, dogs are quite similar. The type of training you choose has everything to do with your personality and the type of dog Baby Rex happens to be. There is no one right way of training your dog, it is partly personal preference and partly a function of what works well for your dog.
It’s okay to be flexible. Just because you read somewhere that Pavlovian Conditioning works best for Beagles, and Rex is a Beagle, doesn’t mean you have to do it or you can’t decide to try something different. Often people unconsciously blend a bit of all three methods. What is important is that we understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it’s getting the message across. A gruff, tough dog may need a different tactic than a soft spoken gentle guy that likes to hide from the world safely in a corner. A silly dog may need an adjustment from the way you trained you smart dog ten years ago.
The most controversial methods of training your new little joy is called the Koehler Method. It’s controversial because many people have taken the basic principles and extended it to include abusive punishment. If you use this method, make sure you understand it fully as there is an acceptable way and an unacceptable way of training your dog.
The Koehler Method of dog training is based on the principle that a dog has the capability to choose his behavior based on the reward or punishment that follows his choice. The reward or punishment is supposed to be of natural occurrence. This is where people take it too far.
The clearest example of natural occurrence that the Koehler Method is based on is walking on a leash. If you take your puppy out for a walk and you set the pace and the standard, it is his choice whether to follow you or to try to interact with the distractions. If your puppy has a properly fitted choker collar around his neck and he chooses to wander off to chase a squirrel, the choker will become uncomfortable and he will make the choice to follow you. If you are not deviating from your natural walk, your are not yanking him around, and you are not quickening your pace as he gets distracted, the natural occurrence would be that his choice to chase the squirrel made him uncomfortable, but his choice to follow you makes him quite comfortable.
The Koehler Method of training quickly landed under fire when people began introducing unnatural consequences that inflicted pain on the puppy. Painful punishment does create fear, and fear based obedience does not typically turn into a long term trusting relationship. Abusing an animal in simply wrong, so it is understandable why people regard the recommendation of the Koehler Method of training with great emphasis on thoroughly understanding the method prior to proceeding.
The Pavlovian Method of training is based more on the principle that a response to a stimulus can be learned, whether the stimulus is natural or unnatural. We see evidence of this when our puppies and dog react to the sight of the leash. Randomly pulling the leash out creates a specific and determined upheaval of joy in nearly any dog’s life. They prance, they may bark, they wiggle, and they are more than ready for you to clip that leash on them and get them out the door.
Dogs of course are not actually reacting to the leash but what the leash has conditioned them to believe about it. This theory can be applied to pretty much any dog development area. If they know they will be fed when they sit at the sound of a bell, they will sit at the sound of the bell no matter when you ring it. The bell now represents food. They sit because they want the food and they were conditioned to sit at the sound of what they consider to mean food.
The Pavlovian Method of dog training has had such high success rates that it has also been carried over into human behavior modification. It does require a certain amount of patience and time to teach your dog how to behave with the Pavlovian method, but for some dogs it is the fastest method of learning and the most enjoyable for some handlers.
The Operant Method of dog training is by far the most popular, although it is questionable whether it is the most effective. Those who use it swear by it and feel their dogs are very well trained. Most people even in casual dog training use the Operant Method. The Operant Method of dog training uses consequences to modify dog behavior. If Baby Rex just chewed through your favorite (and of course most expensive) pair of work shoes, he’s going to be in a world of trouble. His actions caused a negative consequence. However, when he sits down to chew on his little teeth cleaner bone you bought him three weeks ago, not only is he permitted to continue chewing, but you will reward him with either an enthusiastic “good boy” or a pet on the head. His good behavior caused a positive consequence.
No matter which method or methods of puppy training you gravitate toward it is important that we all keep Baby Rex’s well being in mind. It really is quite fruitless to beat a dog. He doesn’t understand exactly what he did wrong and you aren’t teaching him how to correct it.
Training a puppy can be frustrating. They are more interested in playing than they are learning what you want them to do most of the time. But their little heats do want you to be happy with them, so whether they seem to be trying or not they actually are. It’s better to keep your training sessions short to prevent his boredom and your hair from being pulled out all over the floor. Remember that you agreed to take this on and teach him how to grow up into a pleasant experience. He didn’t really agree to anything, so avoid making his learning time painful. Patience and persistence will result in behavioral changes. Luckily, puppies are fast learners so you will at least see some improvement fairly quickly, and the first time he listens on the first command, that little melting you feel in your heart is perfectly normal.