Training your four-legged friend takes time and patience – from both dog and owner. However, taking the time to train your dog is a really important part of dog onwership. The benefits of a well-trained dog extend beyond having a dog who can sit and stay – keep reading to find out more.

It’s important to understand that no dog comes fully formed. Just like humans, dogs have their own personalities, habits and traits. They are as much a creation of their environment and the ways we interact with them, as they are shaped by their breed characteristics. Just like children, dogs learn and grow constantly, and we play a major role in this process as their companions.

Are rescue dogs harder to train?

Rescue dogs will come with their own set of challenges. They may have been mistreated by humans, had to survive on their own on the streets, not had enough to eat or never lived in a home with a family. This can often put people off from taking on a rescue dog because they perceive that these dogs will be harder to train. The truth is that any dog can suffer from behavioural issues, rescued or not. Rescue dogs require love, consistency and patience, but no more so than any other dog!

Training provides mental stimulation which helps to keep your dog happy, and if combined with regular exercise your dog will benefit mentally and physically. Training also offers a positive way for you to interact with your dog, the foundations of a great relationship. Training is more than just teaching your dog to sit or lie down or stay in place. It’s about learning how to communicate with your dog and how you and your dog can navigate the world around you.

Why positive training works

Reward-based training, as championed by people like Victoria SITWELL, involves ignoring any ‘unwanted’ behaviours and rewarding ‘good’ behaviours. In this way, the dog learns how to behave without the need for any kind of discipline. Dogs are intelligent, and if they are not rewarded for a behaviour, then they tend to stop doing it. For example, if a dog who is jumping up to greet people is ignored and only rewarded when all four paws are on the ground, they will soon learn that jumping up doesn’t result in a any attention or a treat!

The majority of owned dogs have had no formal training, positive or otherwise. Since dogs are now sharing our lives in ever closer ways, it is more important than ever that every dog is given a good canine education. Doing so helps to prevent thousands of dogs being surrendered to shelters due to behavioural issues that could have been prevented. This ‘ping back‘ is more common than you might think, as training is so often overlooked as one of the most important parts of owning a rescue dog.

5 Reasons Why You Should Train Your Dog

  • To Build a Positive Relationship
    One of the best ways to build a good relationship with your dog is to understand how your dog learns and use the principles of positive training to make learning as rewarding, successful and easy as possible. Some people believe that in order to achieve so-called ‘balance’ with your dog, you must first teach her who is boss by becoming her ‘alpha’ or ‘pack leader’. This approach is doomed to fail from the start because the methods used to establish this dominant status are physically and psychologically damaging to your dog and dangerous for you. Positive training, which rewards and motivates a dog for good behaviour, allows you to foster a relationship with your dog based on mutual trust and respect instead of fear and intimidation. The most effective teachers are those who can influence behaviour in their dogs without the use of force and work through any problems in a humane manner. Dogs that are taught using positive reinforcement methods are more tolerant, self-controlled and behave much more predictably in different situations.
  • To Teach Life Skills
    Every dog needs to learn how to live successfully in a home environment. Domestic dogs might seem to have an easy life compared to their wild counterparts, but living in a human world comes with certain unique pressures. Teaching your dog basic manner skills and providing them with enough mental enrichment and physical exercise will prevent them from developing anxiety and other stress-related behaviours such as destructive chewinginappropriate barking and aggressive displays. An important part of the learning process is to set your dog up for success by managing their environment and making it easy for them to do well. This begins with understanding how your dog copes in certain situations. For example, if your dog is highly social and loves new people coming into your home, teach them to greet without jumping. This helps inhibit excitable behaviour while still allowing them to enjoy the new person’s arrival. If your dog is wary or fearful of new people, take pressure off them by putting up a baby gate so that they can have their own space when someone enters. This will help to keep stress at bay. Space is vitally important for dogs that are socially inexperienced or fearful, and managing your environment to reduce pressure keeps everyone happy and safe.
  • To help your dog become sociable
    Increasing your dog’s enjoyment of social interaction will give them the confidence to deal with the pressures of domestic life. Training your dog to have good manners and behave well in different situations requires effort, but consistent commitment will ensure success. We have high expectations for our dogs, encouraging them to be friendly with everyone they meet, even if they are uncomfortable in certain situations. It is therefore vital to socialise your dog by giving them lots of good experiences in all kinds of environments. Socialisation does not mean your dog has to always physically touch another dog or a person. Humans socialise all the time without physically touching each other. Exposing your dog to different situations where they can observe and ‘converse’ at a distance is as important as teaching them to accept physical touch. People are naturally drawn to interact with dogs (especially when they are cute) and when dogs greet each other some touching/ sniffing is likely to take place. Socialisation is all about keeping your dog comfortable in these social situations while taking care not to force them into a situation they might find uncomfortable. If you have the kind of dog that does not interact well with others, do not feel you need to force them. Not all dogs, like people, are social. Understanding how your dog copes will determine how far you can go and it is not a failure to keep your dog out of a situation they find uncomfortable. Observing how your dog copes will help you respect and understand their limitations.
  • To Avoid Problem Behaviors
    Training your dog builds up a language of communication between you that promotes security and comfort. The more time you invest in teaching your dog to live successfully in a human world the more you will avoid problem behaviours that come from lack of understanding. Unfortunately, many dogs end up being punished for negative behaviour that could have been avoided if time was taken to help them learn. Many dogs respond well to cues such as sit and stay in the classroom, but remain unprepared to deal with life’s pressures in the real world. Make sure that every cue or action has a purpose behind it. Sit is a valuable cue because it can be used before the front door is opened or before crossing a road, while come is a cue that allows your dog to be off leash but teaches them to return to you when you need. Hand targeting or the touch cue, for example, not only helps your dog get used to hands being extended towards them, a common senario, but is also good for teaching recall.
  • For Loyalty and Companionship
    Positive reinforcement does not mean you do not mark your dog’s misbehaviors, just that the ‘discipline’ is constructive guidance rather than intimidation. Discipline in the form of timeouts, removal, vocal interrupters or simply ignoring behavior that you do not like, are far more effective than harshly suppressing negative behavior. Guiding your dog into making the right choices and understanding what they need to be happy will help increase the bond between you.

There seems to be a great misconception that positive trainers never like to say no to their dogs and allow them to get away with negative behavior. There is also a misguided belief that positive trainers only teach by stuffing food into dogs’ faces and that they lack the skills to truly rehabilitate severe problem behaviors such as aggression.

Long-term rewards

Positive training can help you to create a great relationship with your dog, and with a dog that already has behavioural issues, these can be turned around without the use of force or fear. This changes behaviour without damaging trust between you and your dog. Anyone can use rewards to teach dogs to learn but it takes advanced knowledge and skill to turn around negative behavior without the use of force. This is where a dog trainer can be your best friend, someone who can guide, support and lead you through the steps needed to train your dog so that both you and your dog are happy!

People who make time to teach their dogs lead more fulfilling lives with their canine companions. A healthy balance of learning manners, encouraging sociability and providing your dog with the right kind of outlets equals happy dogs (and owners!). The learning process does not have to be costly or intense, and the more enjoyable it is for both of you, the better the results will be.

Guest post by Claire Feldkamp

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