Many people wonder how to train a dog. Some owners also have doubts about whether it is only possible to educate a puppy or if an adult dog is able to learn. Let's clarify these two questions and give some fundamental guidelines to answer the big question: how to educate my dog?
Lots of people want to know how to train a dog. Some owners are unsure whether it is only puppies that can be trained, or whether adult dogs are still capable of learning. In this article, we will answer these questions and provide some essential tips to answer the big question, how do I train my dog?
How dogs learn
When training a dog, the key to getting off to a good start is knowledge and understanding of how dogs think and learn. First and foremost, you should bear in mind that dogs will do things that successfully enable them to get what they want or need. Training is a way of adjusting their behaviour to their circumstances and surroundings, and of ensuring their well-being. Like all animals (including us, as humans) dogs learn by association. This means that they modify their behaviour based on the association they have established between two stimuli in their surroundings (classical conditioning) or between a behaviour and a consequence (operant conditioning). For example, the dog thinks, “If I get a reward every time my owner asks me to sit, I’ll carry on sitting when asked.” They associate a type of behaviour with an outcome. Much of the secret of training a dog lies in the use of what are known as rewards or positive reinforcement.
The power of affection
We mustn’t forget that dogs are social animals who enjoy social contact and are happy when they feel like they are part of a family or social group. Sometimes the best reward might simply be a pat, going for a walk or spending time with us.
A calm environment for training
As dog trainer and ethologist Alba Benítez explains, “getting a dog to do what we want is a challenge, from knowing how to create the necessary opportunities for achieving that good behaviour, to rewarding it.” So it’s pointless to try and teach your dog to sit in the middle of the park with a whole load of distractions in the background. Firstly, you should try and train him to do this at home, in a calm environment that’s conducive to learning.
Motivation: the key to dog training
It’s easier to train a dog who is motivated. That’s why you should take note of what your dog likes and use those things as motivation or as a reward. Each dog will be different. There are dogs who prefer being patted, while others prefer a toy and some like an edible treat, for example. If you don’t choose the right reward, you could end up with a demotivated dog who isn’t interested in learning.
To punish or not to punish
If you want to understand the right way to train a dog, bear in mind that you should always opt for rewards over punishment. Reinforcing good behaviour is always more effective than punishing bad behaviour.
Patience, especially if you’ve got a puppy
Dogs aren’t robots, and they all learn at their own pace. Some will naturally pick things up more easily than others; that’s why you need to be patient. If you’ve got a puppy, you also need to bear in mind the fact that training is unlikely to have a lasting effect until the dog is between eight and nine weeks old. Before then, puppies forget very quickly and are less able to concentrate over long periods of time. They are also more excitable. It’s perfectly possible to start to train a puppy from two months old onwards, but remember that training sessions should be much shorter than for adult dogs.
How to train a dog: the definitive guide:
When it comes to dog training, remember the golden rule: every dog has a different personality and level of ability. All dogs are capable of learning, but they are all motivated differently. It’s really important to respect their personality and not demand more than they are capable of or expect your dog to do exercises that it’s not ready for. The relationship between dog and owner should not be one of domination and submission, but rather based on cooperation and rapport. With this in mind, you’ll be sure to achieve a healthy, positive relationship with your dog and to teach them things that you can’t even imagine right now.