Dr. Sydney Routley: Effective dog training

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One of the reasons that dogs have earned the title of ‘man’s best friend’ is the close bond that people and dogs develop. Training can be a great way to reinforce that bond, and have a well-mannered dog.

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Training can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog. Training puppies who are eager to learn and explore the world is very gratifying. Positive reinforcement is the idea of rewarding the behaviour you like to see. For dogs, this is a very effective training method.

Being consistent is key for discouraging behaviours that you don’t want. Ignoring the behaviour or distracting the dog from an unwanted behaviour, as well as encouraging a wanted one can be effective. It is important to set the rules that you want from your adult dog when they’re a puppy. If you don’t want your adult dog on the furniture, don’t let them up there as a puppy. Creating manners can be as simple as asking your dog to sit before eating, coming in a door, greeting people, etc., and rewarding him for it. Letting the dog know what the expectation is the best way for him to succeed.

A common misconception is when a dog does something bad, they know that they have done something wrong and act guilty. Dogs are masters at reading body language, and what’s actually happening is that the dog is reacting to your body language, and tone of voice. The dog is reacting submissively to try to appease the upset body language you are giving, which can appear as guilt.

Another thing that dogs have trouble learning is being disciplined after the act of an unwanted behaviour — like finding a urine accident in the house. When dogs are disciplined after a behaviour, they have trouble making the connection that the pee is what you are displeased with. They typically react to the upset body language and become submissive, but have no idea why.

Effective discipline involves catching the behaviour as it is going on and disrupting it there and then. This immediate response to the action they are currently doing is something dogs can understand easier. So if you catch the dog peeing in the house, clapping your hands and interrupting the behaviour can be effective, especially if followed by bringing the dog outside and letting them complete the urination and praising them right after.

Clicker training is a great way to teach dogs, because it captures the exact behaviour you want. Often there is a time-lapse from the wanted behaviour — like sitting — and the reward of a treat. The clicker is a noise used to indicate that something good has been done, and a treat is given immediately after. Since the click noise can quickly follow up the desired behaviour, it captures what is wanted from the dog.

Effective training can make dogs better-behaved, more fun to be around, and increases your bond with them. Praise goes a long way in strengthening your connection with your dog, and is the easiest way to train them.

Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004.

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