Learn about the basic dog training principles

When you take the leash off, the dog is far less inclined to listen. In some instances, the dog doesn’t listen at all! I’ve seen dogs who were absolutely, perfectly obedient on leash completely “forget” their training when the leash came off. Entire training methods have been developed to overcome this problem. These include light lines, where a very light nylon cord or even monofilament is put on the dog’s collar, so that when the leash is taken off the handler can step on the monofilament or grab it (with gloves), thus preventing the dog from escaping and teaching him that you still have control. Smaller leashes, or gradually cutting a six-foot leash to five feet, four feet, two feet, etc., have also been used. This is because we’ve all seen dogs who listen perfectly on a six-foot leash. You could even drop

the six-foot leash and walk 10, 20 or 40 feet away and the dog would still listen. If a dog listens on a six-foot leash when you’re 40 feet away, is the leash really necessary? Many people would say no and remove the leash. The problem is, when you take the leash off, the dog often runs away. To overcome this, instead of taking the leash off you start to gradually cut it down. First five feet, then four, until finally the dog is left wearing the metal clip portion of the leash. Many dogs responded to this technique, although some started to run when the leash got shorter than one or two feet. Many trainers still find the challenge of getting dogs to listen off leash among the most difficult they have to deal with. To be fair, this is less of a problem now than it was 30 years ago. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that most modern training methods are not based on teaching your dog to avoid leash corrections. When compulsion methods of this type were taught, the dog viewed the leash as the tool of correction. The problem was that once the tool was removed, the threat of correction and the ability to correct were also removed. Dogs are not stupid. If they’re trained to avoid punishment, and the instrument of punishment is gone, so is the dog— down the street, with his handler chasing 100 feet behind. The other reason this is less of a problem today is that training usually starts at a younger age now than it did in decades past. When owners waited until their dogs were six to eight months old before they started formal training, they had been interacting with their pets for months before formal training took place. During this time, they were inadvertently teaching their dogs not to listen. To put it another way, if you only have a month to mess up your dog’s training, you will typically do less damage than if you have five months. I can just hear owners asking me, “Wait a minute. What do I do that teaches my dog not to listen to me?” The bad news is, plenty.The good news is, it can all be avoided. Let’s look at another scenario. Going back to the Jones’house, we see them and their 14-week-old Basset Hound puppy. The puppy, named Buford, is in the bedroom doing what Bassets do best, sniffing. Suddenly Buford’s keen nose smells something incredibly exciting, an old sock under a dresser.

He smells it and, intrigued, tastes it. Yummy, salty, interesting, this warrants further investigation. He takes it in his mouth and starts to walk around the room. Mrs. Jones sees this and says to Buford, “Buford, honey, don’t chew that. Come. Come to mommy.” Buford ignores this and starts to walk out of the room carrying the sock. Mrs. Jones follows saying, “No Buford, come. Come. Come. Come here right now.” This has absolutely no effect and Mrs. Jones moves quickly toward the dog in an attempt to grab the inappropriate object out of Buford’s mouth. Upon seeing what, from the dog’s perspective, is a large creature moving toward him, Buford reacts instinctively by darting away. Fourteen-week-old Basset puppies are not exactly renowned for their speed, but they can be wicked around corners, and Buford manages to get halfway across the house before dropping the sock. He continues to run and is successful in avoiding capture. Mrs. Jones stopped chasing him after he dropped the sock anyway, but Buford doesn’t understand any of that. He simply knows he ran and got away. Mrs. Jones picks up the sock and thinks to herself, “Gosh, this is going to be work. But I guess he learned I don’t want him to chew socks.” Actually, it is extremely unlikely that the Jones’ dog learned anything like not to chew socks from the above scenario. What the dog did learn (or will learn if this scenario is repeated) are a number of things, none of them good. First, the command “come” was given six times and the dog not only didn’t come, but ultimately ran the other way. Let’s look at this for a second. This interaction took place off leash. This type of interaction could reoccur 10 times a day for a month or longer. This means Buford would hear the “come” command 60 times every day and never listen. Sixty times a day for a month is roughly 1,800 times that Buford learned not to come! Is it any surprise that after 1,800 repetitions of not listening to the “come” command off leash, when Buford is taken to class, given the “come” command on leash and then consistently taught to obey it on the leash, that he will only learn to respond to “come” on leash? He’s already learned not to come off leash. This is the crux of the problem. Second, Buford also learned that running away was successful. Not a very good lesson for any dog to learn

So what can owners do about this? A number of things. First, continue to read this book, because many of the principles and methods found here can be started from day one. As you read, you will learn how to prevent problems and how to redirect, focus and reward your dog for correct behavior, rather than just react, yell and give ineffective commands when you’re confronted with unacceptable behavior. Hopefully, you will also learn the crucial principles of training, so you can teach your dog what I call “foundation level” off-leash training, and, very importantly, teach this type of training whenever possible before you start on-leash work. Will this be easier to teach if you’ve just obtained a puppy? Yes, but dogs of any age can benefit from these training principles. Here are some basic principles that all dog owners need to learn and follow:

Be consistent. A behavior is either acceptable or it isn’t. It can’t be acceptable on alternate Tuesdays when you’re in the mood. For example, it can’t be OK to allow your dog to jump all over you on the weekends when you’re in casual clothes, but not during the week when you’re dressed for work. That’s an obvious one, although you’d be amazed how many people I’ve met who do exactly that. Here’s one that’s less obvious. It can’t be OK for your dog to chew fabric toys but not to chew “inappropriate” fabric items. In other words, if you give your dog an old sock and say, “Here, chew this,” don’t be surprised when she eats your shirt. Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and toughest for families. The more people who interact with the dog, the greater the likelihood of inconsistency. I strongly recommend that families conduct a few meetings to discuss and agree upon what will be universally unacceptable behavior on the part of the dog. Everyone needs to clearly understand what the rules will be for a training program to be most successful. That being said, we live in the real world and I recognize how difficult consistency on

the part of a six-year-old child will likely be. Parents of younger children will need to practice a fair amount of prevention and understand that the dog’s training process may be a little bit more difficult and prolonged. 2. Be consistent. Yes, I know I already said this, but consistency also extends to obedience commands. If you want your dog to learn to listen to obedience commands the first time they’re given, you need to be prepared to properly teach your dog to obey them the first time. This is most effectively accomplished if the initial foundation-level obedience you teach around the house is done off leash. I have sometimes run into problems when discussing how important it is for dogs to obey commands consistently. In my opinion, this is an area where attitudes have gone downhill in the last 30 years. Decades ago the idea that a dog needed to obey commands the first time they were given would not have drawn comment. Today, there are many owners who are uncomfortable with the idea that their dog should be trained to respond so predictably. I’ve had owners object, based on the idea that they did not want their dogs “to become robots.” It is important for these owners to understand that, first of all, if training is primarily done with compassion and reward this will not happen; and second of all, you might not care if your dog listens on the first command until the very first time she runs out into the street. Then, as cars are barreling toward her, you will pray she listens on the first command, because you may never get a second one. The specifics of how to teach foundation-level obedience off leash can be found in Chapter 7 of this book. However, the principles of consistency really need to be understood here

  1. Understand why behaviors take place and deal with problems by dealing with the cause. When owners learn to do this, they will not just be reacting to what are often symptoms of an underlying problem
  1. Learn basic training techniques and then follow rules one and two. All owners need to understand the principles of prevention, maintenance, redirection, reward and correction. And they need to use them consistently.

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