Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I need to train my dog?
The common belief used to be that dogs should not be trained until approximately six months of age. The reason was that dog training used to be (and in some camps still is) a very harsh and punishing experience. The truth is that although a dog can be trained at six months, training should, if possible, begin much earlier. At six months, a dog has generally already had time to acquire a multitude of bad behaviors and habits. Ideally, training should begin at about ten weeks. At this age, a puppy is fully able to learn and assimilate information and generally responds very quickly to a training program. And, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks; however, your old dog may just have to “unlearn” a few undesirable behaviors first.
What is Socialization and Why is it Important?
Introducing your puppy to others within his environment is a very important step in his development. Puppies need the opportunity to meet all kinds of people with a variety of attributes–different genders, sizes, shapes, ages, etc. This will enable the puppy to feel less anxious and more relaxed around strangers. Puppies should also be able to mix and mingle with as many different types of dogs and other animals (including cats) as possible. If a dog can learn to accept cats while still young, it will be less likely to chase them as it gets older.
Puppies should be introduced to a variety of people, places, objects, noises, and environments, slowly and carefully, so as not to overwhelm them. Examples include vacuum cleaners, stairs, people of different ethnic backgrounds, men, women, kids, cars, skateboards, bikes, different substrates, loud noises, and more. Go out of your way to make sure these encounters are as positive as possible. The more your puppy experiences pleasantly, the less he will be afraid of later. Never force your puppy to be in close proximity to anything or anyone that frightens him. This will backfire and only result in more anxiety.
Early socialization is critical, especially during the all-important first eight to twelve weeks of life. If not properly socialized during this time, the puppy will be less likely to form a strong attachment to people and may be timid later in life. A puppy should stay with the dam and litter mates until at least eight weeks of age since the interaction with siblings helps prepare the puppy for meeting other dogs. Puppies should be kept in an environment where they are able to see people and are handled regularly. Socialization will help ensure a well-adjusted, friendly dog
What is positive reinforcement training?
Positive reinforcement places its emphasis on rewarding desirable behavior. This concept is based on the principles of operant conditioning, in which behavior is determined by its consequence. In short, this is motivational training in a positive sense. Motivation is used to encourage desirable behaviors, and unwanted or undesirable behaviors are either redirected into acceptable behaviors or ignored. With repetition, reinforced behaviors win out, and unrewarded behaviors are extinguished.
In other words, behavior causes something to happen. (Ex: your dog whines at the door and you go over, open the door, and let him out). Your dog is acting on the environment (you), and being reinforced for doing so because you let him out. Fido quickly learns that “Whining gets me outside, therefore I will whine.” Trainers utilize this same principle; they reinforce or reward the animal for desirable behaviors, and ignore or take away something of value for undesirable behaviors.
At the exact moment that the animal offers the desired behavior, the trainer communicates this by way of a conditioned reinforcer, (a once neutral stimulus that has come to have a positive association for the animal due to the fact that it is paired with a desirable reward). This conditioned reinforcer can take many forms: a whistle, a click, a word, or any number of indicators. With dogs, the conditioned reinforcer is commonly referred to as a marker. The marker, such as the word “good,” indicates that “good things are coming.” Examples include: food, petting, praise, play, attention, or a favorite toy.
Positive reinforcement techniques were originally developed for use (with great success) in training marine mammals. These same basic techniques are now being used extensively in dog training and have taken obedience training to a whole new level. The use of pain, punishment, and harsh corrections is quickly becoming a thing of the past. When used correctly, positive reinforcement methods are extremely effective and result in a happy, confident dog rather than a dog that hangs his head in submission and crawls timidly towards you with his tail between his legs. The training methods you use can make all the difference!
Why is it not okay to punish my dog after the fact?
Dogs live in the moment; therefore a dog does not understand that you are punishing him for something he did previously. For example, your dog chews and destroys a household item; you call him to you and then punish him for his prior misdeed. Your dog now thinks he is being punished for obeying your cue. He doesn’t understand that he is being punished for something he did two minutes ago. To make matters worse, there is a strong likelihood that he will develop a negative association with the recall cue. He would rather do just about anything, except come when called. Given enough repetitions of this scenario, your dog might even begin to fear you!
Similarly, if your dog leaves a “present” for you on your living room floor, and you find it after the fact, stick your dog’s nose in it, and say “no, bad dog!”, your dog will only become fearful and confused. He will not associate your current feelings of anger and frustration with his previous accident. The dog does understand you are upset–and may even look guilty–but that is only because dogs are very good at reading our moods, including our body language and tone of voice. The dog, however, does not specifically understand what it is being punished for. Often times, dogs that are punished for pottying in the house begin to fear the act of eliminating–especially in front of the owner—which leads them to hide in order to do their business.
Is a crate really necessary?
A crate is an enclosed kennel that is used to house a dog. It can be used as a den for the dog (a nice private retreat). Crates are wonderful when traveling, and are especially useful when housebreaking a dog. A crate should be just large enough to allow the dog to stretch out and lie down. However, the crate should not be so large that the dog has excess room in which to roam (or eliminate). Dogs typically will not eliminate where they lie. The crate also keeps the dog from eliminating in the wrong areas (e.g. in the house) until it can be taken to an appropriate area outside.
Crate training is only one part of housebreaking. Puppies need to eliminate within a fairly short time after eating and/or drinking, so regulating their food and water definitely helps. Puppies should be fed at set times and have no more than 10-15 minutes in which to eat and drink. Within a few minutes of playing, eating, drinking, and just about any other activity, puppies need to be taken outside to “the spot” and given an opportunity to relieve themselves. In addition, puppies should not be kept in a crate for longer than 2-3 hours during the day, and they need to be given several opportunities to exercise/play and relieve themselves before retiring to the crate for the night.
The crate should be a welcoming and comforting “den” for your puppy. Consider throwing a few treats or a chew toy in for your dog from time to time. Be careful not to ostracize your puppy from the rest of the family or “pack” by keeping him in a distant room away from the hub of activity. It is preferable to have him included and in the same general vicinity as the family whenever possible.