In order to have a well-balanced dog, we have to teach her the house rules, and set boundaries and limitations from the get-go. The message you send your dog the moment she enters your home for the first time is critical, because it immediately establishes the ground rules in your dog’s mind. If you just let her run in the door, the message is, “Here! Everything is yours, and you can do whatever you want.”
Modifying these can be difficult and it’s even more frustrating to teach your dog to overcome these instincts altogether, but you can also learn how to use them as a baseline for your training regimen. Professor Donaldson layers in modern psychological practices such as B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning and Pavlov’s emotional manipulation to build conditioned responses in order to create a positive environment of action and reward, motivating your dog to overcome his instincts and to adopt the behaviors you want to instill.
After discussing it with your veterinarian to ensure your dog has all the necessary vaccines, you may wish to take your dog to group training classes or the dog park. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language to be sure he’s having a good time — and is not fearful or a dog park bully. If you’re unsure of what signs to watch for, check out this video on safety at the dog park.
Praise the dog by telling him “good boy” every time he toilets outside. Make sure that he knows this is behavior that is pleasing. Choose a location and keep taking your dog to the same spot for toileting and be consistent with this every time in the beginning. He will quickly learn to recognize the scent and understand that this is where he takes care of business. Remain with your dog until he is done.
Ideally you should give the command phrase once and then use your food to move the puppy into positions. Once the puppy has performed the task, add in verbal praise and an affectionate pat, which are known as secondary reinforcers (see below). If the puppy does not immediately obey on the first command, then you are likely proceeding a little too quickly. If you keep repeating the command, the puppy will learn that several repetitions are acceptable before it needs to obey. Keeping a leash attached can help to gain an immediate response if the puppy does not obey.
You can also lure a down from a sit or stand by holding a treat in your hand to the dog’s nose and slowly bringing it to the floor. Give the treat when the dog’s elbows touch the floor to start. After a few practices, begin bringing your empty hand to the floor and giving the treat AFTER he lies down. When he can reliably follow your hand signal, begin saying “down” as you move your hand.
Dogs like having a routine. A dog who has spent the last few weeks or more in a shelter or rescue may have been stressed out in part because his life had become so unpredictable. By establishing a routine for feeding, walking, playtime and bedtime, you can begin providing some stability for your dog. In most cases, this will help with his adjustment to his new home.
The term "observational learning" encompasses several closely related concepts: allelomimetic behavior or mimicking where, for example, puppies follow or copy others of their kind; social facilitation where the presence of another dog causes an increase in the intensity of a behavior; and local enhancement which includes pieces of social facilitation, mimicking, and trial-and-error learning, but is different from true observational learning in that the dog actively participates in the behavior in the presence of the other dog and/or other environmental cues. Four necessary conditions for observational learning are: attention, retention, motivation, and production. That is, the dog must pay attention to the dog or person performing the modelled behavior; retain the information gathered about the behavior during the observation; be motivated to reproduce the behavior in a time and place removed from the original; and finally, produce the behavior, or some reasonable facsimile thereof.
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Researchers have described several reasons why the dominance model is a poor choice for dog training. First, a relationship based on dominance is established to gain priority access to scarce resources, not to impose particular behaviors on the less dominant animal, so the dominance model is irrelevant for most of the behaviors that people want from their dogs, such as coming when called or walking calmly on a leash. Second dominance-submission relationships, once established, are constantly tested and must be regularly reinforced. Thus people, particularly children and the elderly, may not be able to retain their rank and are at risk of being injured if they attempt to do so. Third, dominant individuals gain priority access to resources, but only while they are present, establishing dominance over a dog does not guarantee its behavior when the dominant individual is distant or absent.
Most people don’t have a problem being very clear about when they are unhappy with their dogs, but, they often ignore the good stuff. Big mistake! Make sure you give your dog lots of attention when he’s doing the right thing. Let him know when he’s been a good boy. That’s the time to be extra generous with your attention and praise. It’s even okay to be a little over the top.
The most important concepts in dog training are positive reinforcement, repetition, and patience. You didn’t learn the alphabet in a day; it would be unfair to expect your dog to remember every command perfectly after only a few tries. End your training sessions before the dog starts getting bored or frustrated, and try again another time, and have fun! If you stay calm and positive, the dog will pick up on your attitude and learn faster.
Once home, take him to his toileting area immediately and spend a good amount of time with him so he will get used to the area and relieve himself. Even if your dog does relieve himself during this time, be prepared for accidents. Coming into a new home with new people, new smells and new sounds can throw even the most housebroken dog off-track, so be ready just in case. Need more housetraining tips? Check out our Dog Housetraining section.
Don’t overwhelm your dog by expecting too much at first. Start slow by working on basic commands, such as “sit,” and keep training sessions short. You can gradually train your dog for longer periods of time and move on to more complex commands, such as “leave it,” once basic training is successful. As your dog learns these basic commands, it becomes easier to start training your dog on the more difficult ones.