THE ART OF TEACHING
Remember when you were in school and had a favorite teacher? That teacher seemed to have a knack for helping students understand the subject matter. Those teachers who get concepts across to their students well have made teaching an ART.
As in teaching humans, teaching dogs can also be an art. To take teaching dogs to that higher level, below are some keys concepts:
The timing of corrections AND praise (reinforcement) MUST be impeccable. It is TOO late to correct or praise if the dog is not doing what you want to reinforce. Reinforcement MUST happen AS the behavior is happening. If Poochie has pooped on the floor and then you find him chewing a bone, it is way too late to correct for pooping on the floor!
If you do not want Poochie on the couch, then he should NEVER be allowed on the couch. If you do not want your dog to jump up on you when you are dressed for work, then he also should not be allowed to jump up on you when you are wearing jeans. Dogs do not understand sometimes or maybe. They only understand always or never! If you want your dog to lay down and he doesn't, follow through by showing him what you expect. The best way to lose your dog's respect is by not following through on commands.
Too often we focus on correction with our dogs, and never say a word when things are going well. If Poochie is lying quietly on the floor chewing a bone, tell him what a GOOD DOG he is! Even if you have had a difficult time getting your dog to come back to you, being angry will only make it worse (see related article). You need to lose the anger and let him know he is good for coming (through clenched teeth, resisting the urge to strangle him!). After all, he DID come to you. Dog training class instructors have a MUCH more difficult time getting dog owners to PRAISE their dogs than they do in getting them to correct their dogs!
TELL your dog, don't ASK him (see related article on tone of voice)! If he doesn't comply, then SHOW him! However, FIRM does NOT mean MEAN!
Break up training with energetic games. Learning becomes boring and stressful if ideas are drilled. Games give everyone a stress break!
HELP your dog to understand what you want from him. Once he has a good understanding of what you expect, then you can correct and show him the appropriate behavior.
When teaching, break each exercise down to small portions. For example, when teaching STAY, the dog cannot be left while the handler walks across the room. Instead, the handler, after giving the stay command steps directly in front of the dog, standing toes to toes, and counts to FIVE ONLY. Then the handler then returns to the dog and PRAISES. Corrections and teaching are done as needed. The distance between dog and handler can be increased as the dog begins to understand what "stay" means. Also, the length of time the handler is away from the dog can be increased as the dog learns what "stay" means. As the dog becomes steadier and has a clearer understanding of "stay", distractions can be added, like other dogs, kids playing, a toy squeaking or a ball in motion, or other distractions (this is where the handler can be creative!). Think of distractions as a pop quiz!
Often if a dog does not understand an exercise, it is because it was taught too fast and with too much assumption on the handler's part. The exercise needs to be broken down into small increments and re-taught.
Pam Young, LVT
Copyright 1996- 2006, Pam