In part two, I discussed the three main “methods” of training a pet dog. Here I examine which “method” works best for different situations and commands.
First, we must examine the kinds of behaviors we expect from our pet dogs. In this regard, the behaviors are divided into two groups: DO and DON’T DO. Let’s look into this in more detail.
Simple commands – Sit, down, stand, stay, come, leave it, heel, etc. These commands fall into the DO category, and their teaching is best accomplished using the Friendly/Rewarding “method.” Operant conditioning, also known as the clicker method, is amazingly effective at teaching these types of commands quickly and reliably. Since there is a direct relationship between the dog performing a requested action and receiving a reward for it, the dog is more than happy to learn and perform the actions. As usual, some additional work is required to make the dog’s response reliable in the face of distractions, such as being around other dogs or in a noisy crowd of people, etc.
Every day life – Housebreaking, destructiveness, nuisance barking, guest greeting, rough play, etc. These behaviors fall in both the DO and the DON’T DO categories. A dog must learn and accept the appropriate behavior when faced with each situation. Additionally, the dog must exhibit these same behaviors whether his human family is present or not. It would not do if your dog poops outside only when you are home, would it? These types of behaviors are best taught using the parental “method.” There is usually no command to follow nor anything specific the dog must do in order to behave acceptably in a human home. This is where the Parental “method” shines. We expose the dog to as many situations as possible, and in each situation we guide his behavior, reward him when he acts appropriately, and correct him when he is not. This is especially effective when used with a young puppy, as the animal never learns to behave inappropriately to start with.
Unwanted/problem behaviors – Aggression at the door or on leash, stealing and ingesting dangerous items, etc. We are not talking about barking at the door when the bell rings or growling at people when walking on leash. These behaviors can be dealt with using desensitization and reward based methods. We are talking about are behaviors that are outright dangerous. The dog may be trying to attack and harm visitors (or the usual victim, the mailman), or is stealing and swallowing socks or other objects that result in an expensive visit to the veterinary office. Such behaviors pose a risk to the dog, the public at large, or both. And we may not be able to use a parental “method” of training, especially if we adopt an adult dog who’s not looking to us as parents. This is where using the authoritative “method” may be the only viable option. We may have to teach the dog that it is NEVER acceptable to swallow socks, and using a humane but assertive correction may be the only alternative.
In conclusion, we must remember that each and every dog is an individual, and each and every human family is different. Finding the optimal method for training each dog and family is what professional dog trainers strive to do. We are familiar with many tools and we use them as needed to help create harmony between dogs and humans.
Boris Katzenberg is the owner of Behave Dog Training, LLC, a dog training company located in Trumbull, CT. He can be contacted through his website, at www.behavedogtraining.com.