Dog Training: Coaching with contextual cues
By Ruta Shelke
According to the American-Mexican dog trainer Cesar Millan with around 25 years of canine experience, “The dog is a reflection of your energy, of your behavior. You have to ask, “What am I doing?” That’s the right question to ask.” There are several established methods that can help you train your dog. However, there is no best way of doing it. Training is an amalgamation of different techniques that align with your thought process and your pup's behaviour.
If you’ve interacted with dogs, you'll agree that they vary widely in terms of personality, temperament, energy levels, and interests. This realisation might make it seem challenging to train your dog - how can we accommodate such diversity in behaviour? It’s important, therefore, to discuss which training techniques are most and least effective, so we can apply such information to best stimulate our dog’s mind, establish trust, and cultivate an environment suitable for all members of our households. It is vital to understand that having a trained dog isn’t the same as having a balanced dog, teaching your dog basic dog training commands can be helpful when tackling behavioral problems despite whether they are existing ones or those that may develop in the future.
After interviewing a few experienced trainers, we’ve put together a list of FAQs about different dog training styles and how you can apply them with your beloved companions:
- How can I train my dog to not defecate in the house?
- One must remember that relieving is the most natural behaviour. Hence, don’t get frustrated if it takes time for your dog to understand where to relieve herself. Instead, try to create more opportunities to promote the right behaviour. You can do this by figuring out and noting down when your dog needs to relieve and around what time.
- You must also make provisions for her to do so. For instance, place more pee pads in the house instead of limiting their placement to one specific area. Lastly, don’t forget to reward the behaviour with her favourite treat!
- What type of training technique is the most effective?
- Clicker Training has emerged as a popular and effective method in recent years. To condition positive behaviours, it shapes the pup's thought process and can guide her towards learning new responses at the sound of the clicker. This method also encourages the dog to perform a certain task by making her curious. While treats are used as a way of rewarding the dog, this training technique limits dependency on food in comparison to treat training.
- Which training technique can be the most harmful?
- Alpha or Dominance training is by far the one most likely to create damage instead of positive results. It affects the psychological health of the dog in the long run. Alpha/Dominance training also creates anxiety issues, sets fear in the minds of dogs, and unnecessarily builds a wall between you and your companion. Instead, engage in creating positive behaviour and not harshly fixing ones you perceive as negative.
- How do I train my dog to perform appropriate behaviour in critical situations without using force?
- In such situations, it is crucial to create contextual cues for better understanding of your dog. Contextual cues, which aid in the learning process, may change according to the nature of your environment, so it’s important to observe your dog carefully before adopting any technique.
- For instance, if your dog keeps begging for food while you eat, keep her favourite treat on a plate and try to shape her behaviour by showing her the plate. Here are some steps on how you could do it: show food; point at the carpet; try until he lies down; behavior achieved; treat him; point him to stay calm; try until he stays in one position; treat him.
- How can one resolve a fight between two dogs?
- There are various fight intervention kits available on Amazon. They can be really useful in resolving an intense struggle without hurting anyone.
- The first instinct is to separate both dogs. In a very critical state, you could throw some (cold or lukewarm) water to scare both of them and end the fight. Do not ever physically place yourself in the middle of the fight, as it can lead to serious injuries.
- Diffuse the situation by keeping them away from each other for a while. Try to understand why it happened and what caused it. These cues will help you prevent any altercations in the future.
- Do training techniques differ across breeds?
- It’s unfair to categorize a breed according to a preset combination of traits. It makes us lose sight of the behavioral characteristics of each individual pup. Each breed has their own strong trait - Beagles are extremely smart, Indie dogs are quite independent, Golden Retrievers are very gentle, etc. But it’s vital to follow applied behavioural analysis for long-term training plans.
- What is applied behavioral analysis and how will it help you train your dogs?
- Behavioural analysis is when you observe the relationship between your dog’s environment and her behaviour.
- All of your dog’s actions are influenced by a combination of the following: input from their five senses (sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch); biological factors, such as hormones and genetics; pharmacological factors, which may include any medications they take; and experiential factors, past experiences which contribute to their associations with similar environments.
- Becoming skilled at behavioural analysis allows you to look at not only what your dog does, but the motivations, emotions, and triggers behind her actions. In order to provide the best learning environment for your companion, try this technique and stay mindful of your dog’s behaviour!
- Pro tip: Ask yourself these questions to conduct a functional assessment on why your dog behaves a certain way and how to avoid this behaviour.
- What undesired behaviors do I see?
- What events happen right before the behavior?
- What does my dog achieve or avoid with this behavior?
- What emotional and instinctive feelings is the dog experiencing?
- What do I want my dog to do?
Here are a few things you must keep in mind before you begin the training process.
- A dog must be exposed to some form of physical exercise in order to be trained properly.
- They must have a regular routine.
- A trainer must be confident and trust in his ability to control the pet. If he / she is doubtful of their capabilities then, the dog might sense it.
- Don’t let frustration distract you. There’s no room for punishment. It takes time to notice real improvements in your pet. Be patient.
- Be consistent. Don’t break the rule you set for them yourself.
- Take help from other members of your family as the dog must respond to their commands as much as he does to your orders.
- Don’t treat your dogs like babies. Identification of their position in a family unit is essential for training them.
- It’s never too late! Start training your dog today.