In considering the natural behaviours of specific breeds of dogs, it is possible to train them to perform specialised, highly useful, tasks. For example, Labrador retrievers are the favoured breed for the detection of explosives. This is because of a combination of factors including their food drive which enables them to keep focused on a task despite noise and other distractions. Most working breeds of dogs are able to be trained to find people with their sense of smell (as opposed to their sense of sight). Cocker Spaniels are able to be trained as part of a termite detection team. Their relatively small size enables them to fit into small spaces, and their light weight allows them to walk on areas of ceiling which would be dangerous to anything heavier. In fact, although unusual, termite detection dogs are much more reliable at detecting termites than humans who rely on a basic system of tapping and listening. Because of their ability to learn signals by sight and for their energetic and athletic natures, German Shepherds are able to be trained for work alongside search and rescue teams and human apprehension teams.
Socialization should begin as soon as you get your puppy and often this means at 7 weeks of age. Puppies naturally accept new people, other species and introduction to new situations during the socialization period which occurs between 7 and 14 to 16 weeks of age. This period provides an opportunity for a myriad of introductions that will provide positive memories that last a life time. Puppies are eager, exploratory and uninhibited during this period and it is important to take advantage of this enthusiasm. Be sure to protect your puppy during this period and ensure that all experiences are positive, fun and not fear evoking.
Puppies can begin very simple training starting as soon as they come home, usually around 8 weeks old. Always keep training sessions brief — just 5 to 10 minutes —and always end on a positive note. If your puppy is having trouble learning a new behavior, end the session by reviewing something he already knows and give him plenty of praise and a big reward for his success. If your puppy gets bored or frustrated, it will ultimately be counterproductive to learning.
When you adopt a puppy or dog from a shelter, he comes with a history — not the least of which is being relinquished to the shelter. Keep in mind that the stress of this, along with whatever the dog has experienced in his past, can make him less than confident in new surroundings. Plan on giving him some time to adjust to his new home and family. Dogs can take anywhere from a few hours to several months to get used to living in a new place. During this adjustment time, do what you can to make your new dog feel safe and comfortable. Be patient while he adjusts, but also try to keep things consistent and predictable in his new environment.
Keep your dog’s training sessions short. Puppies have especially short attention spans, but all dogs need breaks so that they don’t get bored or distracted. Some puppies may only be able to focus on training for about five minutes at a time. Older dogs may last 15 or 20 minutes before becoming bored with the task at hand. A little playtime between training sessions is a great way to keep your dog focused and reward him for his hard work.
Dogs have become closely associated with humans through domestication and have also become sensitive to human communicative signals. Generally, they have a lot of exposure to human speech, especially during play, and are believed to have a good ability to recognize human speech. Two studies investigated the ability of a single dog that was believed to be exceptional in its understanding of language. Both studies revealed the potential for at least some dogs to develop an understanding of a large number of simple commands on the basis of just the sounds emitted by their owners. However the studies suggested that visual cues from the owner may be important for the understanding of more complex spoken commands.
Operant conditioning (or instrumental conditioning) is a form of learning in which an individual's behavior is modified by its consequences. Two complementary motivations drive instrumental learning: the maximization of positive outcomes and minimization of aversive ones. There are two ways in which behavior is reinforced or strengthened: positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened by producing some desirable consequence; negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened by avoiding some undesirable consequence. There are two ways in which behavior is decreased or weakened: negative punishment occurs when a behavior is weakened by not producing a reinforcing consequence; and positive punishment occurs when a behavior is weakened by producing a consequence that is a disincentive. In combination, these basic reinforcing and punishing contingencies provide four ways for modifying behavior. Reinforcement increases the relative probability or frequency of the behavior it follows, while punishment decreases the relative probability or frequency of the behaviour it follows.
Person-to-person communication is key with trainers, but words matter only so far as they can be translated into action. “Any kind of woo-woo language, about ‘energy,’ ‘packs,’ ‘leadership;’ anything that sounds very non-concrete, where you come away thinking, ‘O.K., but what’s actually going to physically happen with my dog here?’; any attempt to obfuscate — that is a huge red flag,” Ms. Donaldson said.
Taking part in a training class is also a smart way to socialize your dog. Meeting other dogs is as fun for your pet as spending time with other owners is for you. It also gives your dog the opportunity to learn how to interact with other animals in a positive way. Moreover, a weekly class is a smart way to establish a training schedule. If you know you will attend a class each Wednesday evening, for instance, you may be more likely to make time for those daily practice sessions that the trainer assigns as homework.
All dog lovers take puppies, rescues and strays home in the hopes of raising them to be obedient, reliable dogs. After all, who does not want a well-trained canine companion? Dog owners, especially first-time dog owners, often think that training a puppy to be well-mannered and socialized is easy. This assumption leads them to take the time, commitment and effort needed to train any dog.
Treat your shelter dog the same way you would a new puppy coming into your house. Assume he has never had any training. Even if he has had obedience training in the past, he may need a refresher after all he's been through. Your best bet is to expect that he knows nothing. This way you'll be pleasantly surprised if the dog already knows some basic commands or is already housebroken, but you won't be setting him up for failure with expectations that are too high. Be sure to train your new dog using positive reinforcement. Keep training sessions upbeat and low-stress.
In 1848 W. N. Hutchinson published his book Dog Breaking: The Most Expeditious, Certain and Easy Method, Whether Great Excellence or Only Mediocrity Be Required, With Odds and Ends for Those Who Love the Dog and the Gun. Primarily concerned with training hunting dogs such as pointers and setters, the book advocates a form of reward-based training, commenting on men who have "a strong arm and a hard heart to punish, but no temper and no head to instruct" and suggesting "Be to his virtues ever kind. Be to his faults a little blind." Stephen Hammond, a writer for Forest and Stream magazine, advocated in his 1882 book Practical Training that hunting dogs be praised and rewarded with meat for doing the correct behavior.
If you’re interested in training your dog to come to you when he’s called, one way to teach him is to play the Recall Game. This training game is played with two people, one hungry dog, one 6-foot leash, and plenty of small treats. Practice the Recall Game on and off leash inside, on leash outside, off leash outside in a confined area, and then ultimately on and off leash with distractions when your dog is ready. Be sure you can touch your dog’s collar every time he comes to you, and before you give him a treat.