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So, you're training your dog. Congratulations! Training adds to your journey and will help you build a great relationship. What could be more bonding than learning to communicate better with each other? We see 500 dogs a week come through our classes and a common question we get during training is 'what do we do the REST of the time?' While you wait for the lessons you're teaching to be ready for practical use, how do you live with the dog?
Well, first off let me clarify. Training is an all of the time thing simply because dogs are in a constant state of learning. That means we can never be too lax in what we're trying to work on with our dogs. For example, you wouldn't ignore your dog jumping on a guest because you're not "training". If you're determined to stop your dog from jumping on guests, you need to be consistent in order to be fair to your dog.
They're dogs and they're always learning! That truly is the thing to remember. We want to allow them freedom and enjoyment in life, but does that mean we have to throw our dreams of an obedient dog out the window? No - this is where management comes into play. It will take some planning, but will be well worth it. When I have a young dog who is still unclear on the rules, I ensure the following:
1 - Use a Crate
None of us are superhuman. We can't watch our young dogs every moment of the day. That means, we need help! A crate can be a great 'dog sitter'. Whenever you can't supervise your dog, pleasantly crate them so that they don't get into mischief. The crate will keep them safe from chewing potentially dangerous things, it will keep the things in your home safe from being chewed and it will keep your pup from self-rewarding in your absence. Self-rewarding behaviours, like peeing on the rug or rooting through the garbage will not be possible if your young dog is properly contained.
2 - Have Treats in Your Pocket
When your young dog is out and about, be sure you are ready to reward the things you like! Practise impromptu skills with them and reinforce them when they make good choices. For example, while they are sniffing in the corner of the yard, practise calling their name and surprising them with a high-value reward. Use the practical skills you are working on to get in extra repetition throughout the day. You can also just let them be a dog and not practise anything in particular, but you'll still want to be prepared with rewards for the 'real-life' stuff. Heavy reinforcement should follow things like calling your dog because they are about to trample on the flowers in the garden, for example. When you start the BBQ and you want to reinforce your young dog for keeping a distance. When the burgers are done, you'll want a plan for the dog so they don't jump all over you or try to snag a bite. Remember that dogs are in a constant state of learning, so having a bit of forethought and planning in place will go a long way.
Always remember the cardinal rule in dog training: Dogs do what's rewarding, so be sure to set yourself up for repetition of the things you like by letting your dog know when you're pleased with them.
3 - Supervise
This is key with a young dog. Set yourself up for success by watching them closely. It's terrible information for the dog if you walk into a room and see the damages done. Even if you catch them in the act of ripping up the carpet, for example, the message is grey for the dog since the act of tearing carpet is rewarding for the dog. The duration they spent ripping it was telling them they were doing the right thing. You're basically setting your dog up to fail by allowing them more freedom than they are ready for. This will create habitual behaviour that will work against you as the dog ages. You've got to be present so that you can guide the dog in the direction you'd like. This is why a crate is such a great investment early on. Until you can rely on the dog making good choices out of your direct supervision, use it! Bring them out when you know you are completely committed to watching them and pleasantly crate them when you know your attention will be elsewhere.
4 - Use Your Leash
Having a leash on your young dog will enable you to keep control. Alternatively, you can have them drag a long line (or a leash with the handle cut off). This will ensure that they don't get self-rewards for the wrong thing. For example, if your pup decides to grab a dirty sock from the laundry hamper and start a great game of catch-me-if-you-can, you can stop them by calmly stepping on the line and redirecting them to a better activity. Likewise, if they start to play keepaway when you are trying to get them to come in from the yard, you can nip this behaviour in the bud calmly and succinctly. Once they understand how to listen when you call them, the long line won't be necessary, but you don't want them to have the fun game of keep-away as an option.
It may seem like a lot of work initially, but the early management of a young dog will set you up for a lifetime with a dog who listens. It's definitely well worth the extra effort.
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.