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Basic principles for training your dog

One of the biggest advantages of training your dog is that it’ll strengthen the bond between the two of you. On top of that it also teaches your dog what you expect of him. You might mainly think about the basic commands ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’,... But this contains so much more, including teaching your dog not to jump at people, not to take food from the ground, not to bark excessively,...

Let’s go over some of the basic principles that will help you train your dog.

Practice, practice, practice,...

Repetition is very important in the training process. This will make sure the topic sips in better with your dog. Also it gives him the opportunity to learn to perform in different situations. Using multiple short training sessions every day will be way more successful than only one long training session per week.

Practice makes permanent

Although it’s often said that ‘practice makes perfect’, I rather use the phrase ‘practice makes permanent’. Why make this change? Because by practicing a lot, you’ll imprint the exercise in your dog’s brain, but you’ll also imprint mistakes if you keep allowing them. This might even happen without knowing it at that moment. Wje, your dog gets older, you’ll notice it might be pretty difficult to get rid of this ‘mistake’. For example, lots of dogs will immediately raise their paw after the command ‘sit’, because when they were young, giving a paw was often rewarded.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning was first described by Pavlov. He did an experiment where he would always ring a bell before giving dogs their meal. Eventually, even without seeing their meal, the dogs would produce increasing amounts of saliva after simply hearing the bell. Because they were conditioned that food would follow. This can be integrated in today’s training method. When your dog hears the command ‘sit’ for example, he’ll sit down, because he knows a treat will follow.

Phasing out treats

Although I’m convinced that treats are a great way to learn your puppy or adult dog new things, it’s important to not keep relying on them. There will be moments when you are unable to treat your dog, but you’ll still need them to listen to you.

To reach this state, it’s advisable to phase out the treats you give your dog. First off you reward every good behaviour they show you. Once they get the hang of it, you’ll start rewarding every other good behaviour and you keep lowering the amount of treats you give. Keep your dog guessing whether or not they will receive a treat.

Training in different places

Dogs are not good at generalizing behaviours. Although they might be able to sit on command at home, it’ll be very important to train this in various situations. This way they will be able to generalize the command.

Your dogs behaviour as a choice

I always train my dogs with the following in mind: They choose whether or not they behave well. When starting from this thought process, you’ll just have to reward the choices you like. This will teach them which choices are positively reinforcement and which aren’t.

An example to clarify: When asking your dog to sit, there are two possibilities. Either he sits or he doesn't. When he should decide to sit, he gets a reward, thus enforcing the behaviour. When he doesn’t, you try to lure him into a sit and reward him afterwards. This way you reward him when he acts the right way and show him what to do if he doesn’t.

Train without pain

Never force your dog to do things. This will only result in worsening the bond between you and your dog. He might eventually understand what you want him to do, but will only act accordingly because of fear. Be sure to train positive to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Make sure to always enjoy the training with your dog. The more the both of you enjoy this, the stronger your bond will become.

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