Is your dog giving you deaf ears? When this happens, avoid repeating thecommand over and over and imposing yourself until you get a response; instead,take a step back and consider the following scenarios which are some of themost common issues encountered when training dogs.
1) Low Value Treats: Are Your Treats Worth Working For?
It’s a romantic and hard-to debunk myth that dogs work for us just to pleaseus. In reality, as opportunistic beings, dogs are most likely thinking “what’sin it for me?” according to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). Theright use of treats can really make the difference between a dog who is eagerto work and one who couldn’t care less. The use of low-value treats (such askibble) can be detrimental if your dog isn’t excited by them, especiallyduring the initial stages of learning or when there are distractions around,so make sure your treats are worthy of attention.
Also remember to stick to treats that are soft, smelly, and in small bite-sized pieces. This allows your dog to quickly gobble up the reward and focushis attention back on you, rather than being distracted by a longer-lastingtreat.
A suggestion? Try to use what respected veterinarian, trainer, and writer Dr.Ian Dunbar call the Ferrari of dog treats: Freeze-dried liver.
2) Low Rate of Reinforcement: Are You Missing Out on Rewarding?
In the initial stages of learning or when there are lots of distractionsaround, your dog may find sniffing the grass, looking around, markingterritory and pulling on the leash more rewarding than training. Why is that?It’s probably because there are stimuli that are extra interesting and areworth paying more attention to. If your dog has received little training inthe past, he may have been doing this for a good part of his life. Increasingthe rate of reinforcement during this time by giving your dog more treats forhis training efforts may help to motivate him, and will teach him to pay moreattention to you than to the distracting environmental stimuli.
A low rate of reinforcement can also cause your dog to get frustrated and giveup trying; remember, during the initial stages of learning you need acontinuous rate of reinforcement (giving rewards for every success), and onlyonce your dog shows signs of responding well can you move on to a variableschedule (only giving treats for success every now and then).
3) High Criteria: Are You Asking Too Much at Once?
This is where the saying “be a splitter and not a lumper” comes into play. Itis often tempting to try to teach new behaviors all at once in a singleevening. When your dog stops working for you, you start thinking: “Am I askingfor too much at once?” Truth is, often when dogs fail to respond to command itis because it is too hard for them. So try not to ramp up the difficulty tooquickly; rather, break the objective down into several attainable steps tohelp your dog succeed. As an example, if you were trying to train your dog totouch the tip of a target stick with his nose, you could reward him fortouching ANY part of the stick at first. Over time once your dog gets a hangof this, you could then move on to rewarding him only for touching the roundedtip at the top of the stick.
Try your best to prevent your dog’s progress from stalling, and do not makeyour training sessions too long – keep them short and sweet!
4) High Level of Distractions: Is there too Much Going on?
Dogs learn best when there are little to no distractions around, so be sure tostart your training sessions in a quiet room where there is not much going on.
Once your dog is able to perform the behavior in the quiet room, build fromthere and gradually start asking your dog to perform the behavior in a noisierroom. Then, progress to the yard, a busy street, the dog park, and so forth.
If you start on a busy street or at the dog park right away, your dog may notrespond because you have not yet built a foundation for the behavior.
5) Lack of Training: Has Your Dog Ever Been Trained Before?
If the handler has a history of being inconsistent and not following throughwith the dog, there’s a chance the dog may have learned he could get away fromcertain behaviors and has learned to ignore the handler. Dogs who have neverbeen trained and have been allowed to do as they please for a good part oftheir lives often find the initial stages of learning difficulties, since theconcept is entirely new to them. It is up to the handler to become interestingand worth listening to by investing in reward-based training methods, like theones taught in Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs course.
6) Unclear Cues: Are You Confusing Your Dog?
Dogs thrive on consistency, so make sure you always use the same command cueand that all other people training the dog are on the same page. If you askfor command and your dog just stares at you, consider if that command has ahistory of being used consistently.
In classes, it is not uncommon to encounter a family where the wife uses“come” to call the dog, the husband uses the dog’s name, and the kids just say“here!” Don’t ask for behaviors in multiple ways, and make sure your bodylanguage is congruent with the verbal command. Dogs find body language moresalient than verbal cues.
Also, try your best not to repeat commands over and over, otherwise, your dogwill learn not to listen to the first time you say it, but will wait for youto finish your sentence instead!
7) Frustration Buildup: Are you Getting Frustrated?
Dogs are masters in body language and they can easily detect frustration. Whenthe handler’s frustration builds up, dogs often shut down instead of becomingmore compliant. In this case, it helps to ask the dog for behavior he knowswell (such as a sit) followed by a reward to end the session on a positivenote. You can try the exercise again a little bit later, possibly furthersplitting the exercise into smaller sections if it was too hard for your dog.
Also, keep in mind that if you start raising your voice, bending down, orgetting into your dog’s face, you are intimidating his dog and he will feelthe need to send you appeasement signals and default behaviors, rather thanlistening to your commands.
8) Emotional Problems: Are Emotions Getting in the Way?
If a dog is fearful, anxious, or nervous, his emotional state may interferewith training. This is because the dog is often in a fight or flight statewhich affects his cognitive function, impairing his ability to learn. In sucha case, you may need to work in areas where your dog is less likely to befrightened and then gradually introduce more and more stimuli in a way thatdoes not cause him to react.
As an example, if your dog was frightened of thunder, instead of immediatelyexposing him to recordings of thunderstorms on full volume, you should firstplay them at a very low volume, where he acknowledges the sound but does notbecome scared. After rewarding your dog while the sound is played, you would,over time and numerous training sessions, increase the volume at which youplay the recording. This process is known as desensitization and is a commontechnique used in dog training.
9) Health Considerations: Is Your Dog in Pain or Uncomfortable?
If your dog ignores you, he may be feeling unwell or uncomfortable. If yourdog has always been obedient and is now slacking off, it is best to have yourveterinarian rule out any medical problems. Sloppy sits or a reluctance to laydown may be indicative of orthopedic problems.
Aside from medical problems, some dogs may not like to be trained on certainsurfaces, or perhaps the weather is too hot, too windy, or too cold – there isa multitude of possibilities. Often, a distracted dog may simply need torelieve himself or get a drink of water. Consider how well you could performin an exam if you were busting to use the bathroom!
10) Are You Forgetting to Brain Train Your Dog?
Many owners are not aware of this, but when it comes to dogs, idle minds arethe devil’s workshop. Yet many owners are happy to leave their dogs bored bythe fireplace all day, leading to untold behavior problems. The simplesecret to a well-trained dog is engaging their mind and getting themthinking.
In the wild, before domestication, dogs would spend much of their livesperforming tasks necessary for survival. Even in more modern history, dogs hadspecial roles to perform in their relationships with humans. You can still seethese natural drives in dogs today! For example, you will notice how beagleslove to follow scents, how some terrier breeds love to dig, and how treeingcoonhounds bark upon noticing prey up a tree. Unlike humans who perhaps dreadthe 9 to 5 grind, dogs actively WANT to work, and when they do not, theybecome prone to behavior problems, disobedience, and poor psychological well-being. Many owners spend THOUSANDS on dog training when the solution could beas simple as providing Rover with more mental stimulation!
Fortunately, Brain Training for Dogs offers a solution to this problem.Written by professionally certified trainer Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA (whosework has appeared in USA Today, Every dog Magazine, Nest Pets, and more),Brain Training for Dogs is one of the first training programs to not onlyteach obedience, better behavior, important skills, and tricks but to alsowork on increasing intelligence and engaging the dog’s brain too. Through 21fun and simple games, the novel and scientifically proven methods taught byAdrienne are sure to improve the lives of both you and your dog! By the end ofBrain Training for Dogs your dog will be able to tidy up his toys, play thepiano (yes, really), and identify his toys by name – all while being a betterbehaved and more obedient dog.
Want to get started with brain training? You can check out my course byclicking here:
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