In this chapter, I describe the mechanics of an effective training program. The subsequent chapters get down to the nuts and bolts of educating your dog. You are about to embark on an exciting adventure in mutual empowerment. It actually could be considered a foreign exchange program, because at the same time that you are learning about your dog’s mind, behavior, and culture, she will be learning about yours. Remember:You are teaching her English as a second language, and you are about to become more fluent in hers. Theoretically, each of the following six chapters represents one week’s worth of training. However, because each dog (and trainer) is an individual, feel free to go more slowly if you’d like—or more quickly if your dog is an Einstein. When you and your dog have learned all of the exercises in the book, you will have completed the introduction to your dog’s training career. The two of you will have an understanding of the behaviors and communication tools that will serve you both as you proceed on your journey through the rest of your lives together. Your dog probably won’t be able to perform all the behaviors perfectly by the end of the book; some of them will take several more weeks, or even months, to approach the level of reliability that you’d eventually like to see. For some dogs, a truly reliable recall—by my definition, 90 percent reliability or better in the face of serious distractions—can take years. But you have years. Training happens every day throughout your dog’s entire life. Every time you interact with your dog is a training opportunity. Every time you and your dog are together, one of you is training the other. Wouldn’t you rather be the trainer than the trainee? The Core Exercises sections in the following chapters will lay a solid foundation for your dog’s future. The Bonus Games sections are included to help remind you and your dog that training is supposed to be fun. After the instructions to the exercises, I also include training tips, where helpful, in the form of answers to common questions that arise when people begin to teach their dogs the core exercises. These should help encourage you and your dog to work through the rough patches you may encounter. You will want to do a thorough
job of teaching your dog all the core exercises; they are the key to helping your dog develop her basic good manners. You will also need that solid foundation if you want to go on to more advanced training in any canine sport. You can pick and choose from the bonus games based on your training goals, your dog’s natural talents, and your own personal fancy. Including at least some of the bonus games in your training program is important. Because they are fun and sometimes frivolous, they will keep your training program enjoyable and help to strengthen the relationship between you and your canine partner. People tend to be too serious when they teach their dogs the behaviors that they think are important, but they permit themselves to have fun when they are teaching behaviors that they call tricks. Rarely do you see someone punishing Queenie for not responding to a cue for a high-five. And rarely does Queenie not respond! It’s a fun trick, and dog and owner both seem to enjoy showing off. Positive trainers like to say, “It’s all tricks!” Teaching Queenie to lie down on cue is no less a trick than teaching her to offer a paw. As soon as you get too serious about the Down cue, however, you’re no longer having fun and neither is she. When you’re not having fun, it’s time to stop training—at least for that session. Pick up your tricks and treats again when you’re in a more positive frame of mind.
CHOOSING YOUR CLASSROOM—WHERE SHOULD YOU TRAIN?
In the beginning, you will want to train in an environment that has few distractions. Wait until the toddler is down for a nap, then put the other dog in the garage, shut the cat in the back bedroom, and pick up the chew toys. You want to be the most interesting game in town so that your dog wants to pay attention to you. Indoors is infinitely better than outdoors, because you can’t control the outdoor environment. Squirrels, rabbits, skateboards, and other dogs are just a few of a dog’s favorite things that may outrank you in competition for her attention early in her training program. If you consistently use the same room in the house to train, your dog will automatically start to focus on you when you set up to train. Use this room whenever you are going to teach something new. When Queenie seems to understand a new behavior, then you will want to take it on the road by practicing in different environments. It is critically important to do this if you want your dog to be well-behaved in public. Thousands of dogs are perfectly wellbehaved in the luxury of their own homes when no visitors are around. But let Aunt Martha or the hot new boyfriend come over, or take Queenie for a walk
to the park, and she turns into a maniac. This happens because your dog won’t integrate distractions or generalize her training (be able to apply it to environments other than the one you trained in) well unless you help her. If you always work in the kitchen and practice having Queenie sit two feet in front of the refrigerator, she will think that the cue Sit means “sit two feet in front of the refrigerator.” The first time you take her into the living room and ask her to sit in front of the television set, she doesn’t do it. She’s thinking, “Are you nuts? How can I sit? There’s no refrigerator here!” Meanwhile, you are thinking that Queenie’s being stubborn, obstinate, spiteful, or stupid because she knows darn well how to sit and she’s ignoring your cue. Every time you move to a new environment or add distractions, you may need to back up a couple of steps in your dog’s training to let her know that Sit means the same thing wherever she is, whether there’s a refrigerator there or not. A group training class provides a perfect opportunity to train your dog in a distracting environment and to teach her this important lesson. You will need to find dozens more opportunities like this for her to understand that Sit happens everywhere. Once she becomes more sophisticated about training and accustomed to working in different environments, Queenie will be able to learn new things despite reasonable distractions, and she will be able to generalize more quickly with each new behavior that you teach her.
THE BASIC TRAINING RECIPE
Training a new behavior follows a simple (although not always easy) six-step recipe. Just as good cooks add their own variations to a recipe, good trainers vary the training recipe when they decide that a particular training challenge needs a little more (or less) spice. When you have used the recipe enough to know it well, you can add your own spices as needed.
Six Steps for Teaching a New Behavior 1. Get the behavior. 2. Mark the behavior. 3. Reward the behavior. 4. Repeat the behavior until it happens easily at least 80 percent of the time. 5. Add the verbal cue just before the dog does the behavior to associate the word with the appropriate response. 6. Use the verbal cue to elicit the behavior.
You get the behavior by capturing, shaping, or luring it. You mark the behavior with the click! or some other reward marker that Queenie has already learned means that the reward is coming. Reward the behavior by following the click! or other reward marker with a yummy treat, favorite toy, or other desirable reward such as going outside. Repeat the behavior until Queenie is offering it easily before you add the verbal cue, so that she will associate the word with the correct behavior response. For example, by saying “Sit!” just before she does it, you are telling her that the name of the behavior she is doing is Sit. If you ask her to do it before she’s offering the behavior easily, you risk teaching her that the word sit means “stand there and look at me,” or, worse, “sniff the ground and pull on the leash.” After Queenie has heard the word at least a half-dozen to two dozen times when youknow she’s about to perform the behavior—depending on how quickly she seems to learn—then you can say the word first to elicit the behavior. Be sure that her attention is focused on you so that she actually hears the word, and keep your body position the same as it was when you were getting the behavior before. If you had been doing the Sit while you were standing and you suddenly start asking for it while you are sitting, your dog won’t understand that it’s the same thing. It’s the refrigerator phenomenon, remember? Give her a few seconds to respond after you give the verbal cue, “Sit!” When she sits, click! and reward. If she doesn’t sit, use the minimum amount of assistance necessary through body language (prompt) or a lure—not through physical assistance—to get the behavior. Then repeat the exercise. If you find that she will only respond if you help her, start to minimize (fade) the amount of help you give until she is sitting for the verbal cue without any assistance from you.
How Much Should You Train?
I remember when I used to go to old-fashioned training classes. The trainer would exhort us to put the choke chain and leash on our dogs and drill for forty-five to sixty minutes every day. In these busy times, few dog owners can find a solid hour of free training time every day. Fortunately, I won’t ask you to. One of the many things I love about positive training is that it can happen any time, all the time. You don’t need to get your dog “dressed” in special training equipment—she’s ready whenever you are. I suggest that you train in several five- to fifteen-minute sessions, for a total of thirty to forty-five minutes per day. This is easier than it sounds. Every time you interact with your dog, you have a golden training opportunity. By incorporating your practice sessions into your dog’s daily routine, she learns that responding to your behavior cues earns her all the good things in life—it’s not just something she does when you have a leash or a treat in your hand. Keep in mind that anytimeyou are with your dog, one of you is training the other. Dog-human relationships are usually better if the human is the trainer more often than the dog. This means ideally that you are alwaysaware of which of your dog’s behaviors you are reinforcing—or not—to have the greatest impact on her future behavior, not just during formal training sessions. Breakfast time? Hold Queenie’s bowl up and have her do five puppy pushups (see chapter 10, Core Exercise “1.5—Puppy Push-Ups”). Bingo—you just did a training session! Practice her Wait exercises a few times whenever she goes outside or comes back in. Do some “Stay” practice during TV commercials. Reinforce a polite greeting when you come home from work or from shopping. Before you know it, you will have easily exceeded your three to six sessions per day—and that’s fine, too! In any single training session, pick one or two exercises to focus on. Start with something that Queenie’s good at, such as puppy push-ups, for example, to get her tuned in to you. There’s nothing like success and rewards to get a dog excited about playing the training game! Then introduce something new or more challenging. At first, do enough repetitions so that your dog has an opportunity to figure out what you are asking her to do. If your dog doesn’t seem to be getting it, you may need to do more shaping by breaking the behavior down into smaller pieces and rewarding her more often for small bits of the desired goal behavior. For example, if Queenie won’t lie down, you may need to click! and reward her at first just for looking toward the floor as you move your lure toward the ground. Keep marking and rewarding as she goes lower and lower, until she is all the way down (see chapter 10, Core Exercise “1.4—The Down”). If she quits playing the game with you, go back to the point where she was doing well and proceed more slowly, giving more clicks and rewards for smaller pieces of the goal behavior. If you sense that either or both of you are getting frustrated, it’s time for a break. End the training session on a positive note by asking for a behavior that she loves to do—and only have her do it once or twice. Then take a recess. When she has the hang of it, you can make the future practice sessions for that particular behavior shorter to prevent Queenie from getting bored. How long you train a particular behavior will depend on your dog’s personality and level of training. Some dogs will quit after three or four repetitions, as if to say, “Okay, I did that already—can’t we do something else now?” Know your dog. If she gets bored after five reps, stop at three, while she is still fresh and enthusiastic. If you keep it interesting for her, you will be able to gradually build up her stamina and attention span. On the other hand, some dogs will happily repeat a behavior dozens of times because they love making the click!happen and earning the reward that goes with it. If you encourage this attitude, just performing the behavior itself can become the reward, because it has been so consistently associated with fun and play and other good stuff. When Queenie starts to become fluent in a particular behavior—that is, when she seems to understand and perform the behavior on cue reliably in a wide variety of environments—then you no longer have to practice that behavior as often. In fact, some dogs will perform a behavior with more enthusiasm if you skip a couple of days between practice sessions.