Ground rules for dog training
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
We choose our K-9 companions based on many things. We can pick ones that look or act certain ways based on breed characteristics. We can pick individuals that have stronger tendencies toward being outgoing or to being introverted. Some dogs are also more likely to display signs of social behaviors than others or have more emotional intelligence. This can make them better suited to homes with multiple dogs and help them navigate the dog park atmosphere.
What we cannot chose, however, is a dog’s method of learning. Since dogs do not learn in the exact same way as people do, it is best to understand a few of the ground rules.
Dogs — and cats — live in the here and now. They are early adopters of the mindfulness movement. They are learning all of the time. Even when you are not formally teaching them and working with them, they are observing you and learning. They will associate what they are hearing from you right at the time they are doing a certain behavior. Consistency is key.
If you give them praise or petting when they nudge your hand, they will expect that from you every time they do it. If they try to get affection from you when you are preoccupied, having dinner, etc., they will not understand why you ignore them. It can even cause them to become anxious if you respond to them negatively.
Dogs also will learn a lot from how you say something. Some level of fear or insecurity is normal for dogs when there are new events such as loud thunderstorms or people coming to the house. You do not want to punish them for barking loudly at your friends coming over. You also do not want to make them any more anxious about the storm by yelling at them to be quiet.
Unfortunately, many make the mistake of giving the dog quiet reassurances that everything is OK. What the dog now knows is that at the time of stressful events, it is going to get comforting and affection. This is the reinforcement of a behavior that is going to happen more and more often.
Physical exercise is also a key to effective training. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain in people and helps with learning. It would seem likely the same holds true for our dogs. Dog training classes usually combine the formal obedience part with some form of “recess” or fun, structured exercise for the dogs during and afterward. There are options for group classes and one-on-one training for dogs in the area to continue your K-9 friend’s needs for lifelong learning.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.