When working with clients I like to discuss how we can adjust our natural mindsets to benefit dog training. As a species, humans tend to be reactive in nature and have a ‘negativity bias’ ingrained in our mentality. This means that we look for the bad things in life and don’t notice an issue until it has already developed; not a good mix for dog training.
How does this translate to dog training?
You have a puppy who you are house training. You’re sat watching the TV and not paying attention to what the puppy is doing. Puppy wanders off towards the door into the garden and pees in front of it. You eventually discover the wee puddle when you go out to the kitchen for a drink and proceed to tell the puppy off for the mess. In this instance you have reacted to a situation in a negative way and punished a puppy for something they cannot help.
How can we change this scenario to be proactive and set up this puppy to succeed?
You have a puppy who you are house training. You’re set watching TV but notice your puppy get up and wander towards the kitchen. It’s been about an hour since you last let the puppy out so it’s likely it needs a wee. You follow puppy and open the door into the garden; when puppy pees, you praise and reward your puppy then head back in together to cuddle on the couch.
See the difference?
By being proactive and ensuring your puppy can access the outside when they need to pee you are able to reward the behaviours you want and prevent the wrong ones from even forming and causing you to think punitively. This way of thinking is great for lessening stress for both of you and your dog, allows for a better trusting relationship and creating strong desirable behaviours.
Have a think about how you want to set yourselves up to succeed by using these points as a guide:
• Management – Think how you can set up the environment so that you can prevent or limit your dog’s ability to develop unwanted behaviours. This can range from limiting the space your dog has access to, keeping temptations out of the way, picking a low distraction environment.
• Teach – Decide what behaviour it is you want your dog to do in the given situation and train for that, adding in distractions gradually and proofing the desired behaviour in all types of scenarios.
• Reinforce – Reinforce, Reinforce, reinforce. Practice makes permanent. You need to keep rewarding every right choice your dog makes and reinforce those behaviours to strengthen them.