It is not always the case, but often our dog’s failures are really our own misunderstanding of how they learn. Look closely at what you are doing. Generally, it is not that our dog’s aren’t learning. They are just not learning what we intended to teach them. The five top reasons are:
1. You don’t understand how dogs learn
Science is constantly shedding more light on this topic. For the best explanations of how dogs think and learn, look for animal behaviorists, ethologists, and other scientists who are also trainers. For instance, Patricia McConnell, Stanley Coren, and Jean Donaldson and Kathy Sdao.
2.You don’t know and use what your dog finds rewarding as a reward
You wouldn’t work for peanuts, would you? While you might like peanuts, it is hard to pay the bills with them. Well, your dog needs to be paid with what he considers rewarding as well. The more difficult the task you are trying to train, the higher value the reward needs to be. And the”high value” reward may actually be something other than food. It could be an opportunity to chase that squirrel, or a belly rub. Remember, “The subject dictates the reward. ”
3. You expect too much too soon
Baby steps. Tiny baby steps are the way forward. All new behaviors need to be broken down into tiny steps that your dog can master. The key is setting your dog up for success by breaking the behavior down in small enough steps or “approximations” that he can succeed every step of the way. As a trainer, it is your job to break it down in such a way that your dog does succeed.
4. You have chosen an environment that is too distracting
It is one thing to know “sit” in the living room. But, unfortunately, in your dog’s mind “sit” in the park is an entirely different thing. Make a list of places/situations from the least distracting to the most distracting and work your way through the list with each behavior you train. Remember, it is your responsibility to take tiny enough steps that your dog will succeed. So your first time to the park to practice “sit” may have to be at dawn when there are few other dogs around. If the setting is highly distracting, then the reward should be of high value. Refer back to #2.
5. You are inadvertently rewarding bad behavior
This is a tricky one. Again, it refers back to #2. Often times we overlook “functional” rewards. Grisha Stewart writes extensively about it. For instance, say a dog approaches your aggressive dog and your dog growls and barks in an aggressive manner. The other dog and owner retreat. Thus, your dog has been rewarded. There are many instances that our dog’s behavior is inadvertently rewarded and the most common is probably jumping up to greet people. Next time your dog jumps up, look around at the environment and consider how it has been rewarded inadvertently, perhaps by your reaction.
It was hard to limit this to five, and actually it all comes back to #1. If you understand how dogs learn you will start to see training in a very different light.Training is a constant affair. It is always going on whether we notice or not. If we can start to become more aware of it at this level then we can start to look for opportunities to reward the good behavior. Has your rambunctious puppy settled down for a moment while you watch TV? Grab that opportunity to tell him what a great boy he is. Be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to reward your dog’s good behavior, no matter how brief or subtle they are. Keeps you eyes open for those opportunities and let the photo above remind you!
Ah, but what to do about these issues! Stay tuned for the answers.
Training – Sometimes Easy and Sometimes Not
Photo Credit: atxryan on flickr