Want to have a better-trained best friend? Want to have more fun with your dog? (Duh!) Here’s a big step in the right direction – approach all training as if you’re teaching a fun trick. This is obvious for behaviors like “sit pretty” (up on her haunches), jumping through a hoop, or rolling over. It’s less obvious for behaviors like walking nicely on a leash, coming when called, or settling quietly inside a crate. Maybe this is because old-fashioned training still goads us to coerce our dogs with “commands,” and to prove who’s “boss,” “pack leader,” “alpha,” (sigh). Put your (and your dog’s) mind at ease on this point – there’s no need to train like a drill sergeant. It does nothing to improve your dog’s performance (in fact just the opposite), and will make training less enjoyable for you both. I’m guessing you didn’t adopt your best friend so you could have more unpleasant chores to do, right?
Any behavior can be taught as game your dog can enjoy and win (i.e. “get it right and I’ll give you a treat”). Heck, even training your pup to ignore forbidden temptations is easy to teach as a fun trick. Which of the following would you rather be part of? Stern voice… “Buddy, if you go for that sandwich I’ll yell at you and scare you.” Cheerful voice… “Buddy, if you look away from that sandwich, you win treats!” It’s easy to see that your dog would prefer the latter as their go-to learning strategy, and is MUCH more likely to succeed for not being worried about what happen if she makes a mistake.(Hint – give treats fast and with the sandwich far away at first. If she goes for it, just move it out of reach and start again at an easier level of temptation.)
So approach training as fun and games with your dog. Your dog will be MUCH better behaved, and you’ll want to train more!
Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4, CPDT-KA