“I just want my dog to sit when I ask.” Be careful what you wish for. How you get there may be more important than what you get when training your dog. Experience has taught me that getting what you want sometimes isn’t worth the cost of training your dog a certain way.
Science is not just a body of knowledge. It is a way of learning about and understanding our world. It’s a great way to learn about and understand our dogs too. If we approach our training with some understanding and a consistent approach, the results can be amazing. And don’t we owe that much to our dogs?
Dog training is simple. Anyone can do it, right? Well, maybe. Dog training involves a lot of mechanical skills that we can practise. The more we practise, the better we get. The better we get, the faster our dog learns. Maybe we should focus on doing the basics well instead of looking for some new-fangled clever techniques!
There is a lot of talk these days about the humane treatment of dogs. Being “humane” is a uniquely human pursuit by definition. We seek to be our best selves by doing our best for our dogs. But doing our best might not mean expensive dog food, long walks in the park, or the softest beds we can find. Being humane may be so much more simple than that.
Most dog owners want their dogs to focus on them. It’s a practical matter. Your dog can’t respond to your commands if they aren’t listening, after all. But getting your dog’s attention might take something more substantial than just calling their name. Maybe your dog needs a reason to pay more attention to you. It can be surprisingly easy!
The sport of dog agility is a popular activity for many dog enthusiasts. I’ve been around it for 13 years now and I have learned a great deal. But many of my fellow competitors remain a mystery to me. Is it a game for humans or is it a game for dogs? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. But I think the dogs know the difference pretty quickly.
The science of dogs and training can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. There are things that we need to know about our dogs and how to train them and there are things that are just nice to know. As science provides us new insights into our dogs, it is important to look at this new information in a larger context. We’re just trying to live better, happier lives with our dogs. Keeping the science in perspective can help us do that.
There are lots of ways to mess up a dog. Fortunately, if you take care and teach your dog well, the little mistakes won’t turn into big problems. It seems a strange paradox that the more you train with your dog, the less likely it is that things will go wrong when you make mistakes!
Motivation is a complex topic. Proponents of operant conditioning would point to simple rewards and punishments delivered to the animal as the way to get reliable behaviour from our dogs. But is that the end of the story? New research on human motivation may shed some light on the internal motivations of dogs and why things work differently than we think.
Have you ever noticed all the different ways that people are mean to their dogs? No? Well, there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that you are “abusing” your dog in one way or another even if you didn’t know you were doing it. Even your dog might not know they are being abused. Welcome to dog training’s “new age!”