When are you training your dog?

Training & Learning
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So, this is it, our first blog post and the beginning of a journey of education and discovery that I hope helps to spread the word about kind and communication based training across the country, no wait, the world! Small goals eh?
But, first I thought it would be useful to cover the most basic of all questions, why I do the job I do, and why you as owners and dog lovers are on this site – it might seem obvious at first but the more you think about it, the more surprising the answers might be…
So here it is…
…”What is dog training?”
Yep, that’s right, I asked it!
The traditional view might be of a village hall with puppies running about, learning how to sit, and stay and come back to their owner when called. Or even a slightly more modern version being YouTube videos of how to make your dog do twirls or bark on command or stay with a biscuit on its nose for 60 seconds.
And to some extent that’s probably right, training is often seen as training your dog to ‘do stuff’ when you want them to – from the basic obedience for safety and control, to the more eccentric ideas for fun and internet fame. Probably when you think of this training you imagine spending a few minutes, or sessions a week practicing until the dog can do it – or until you can provoke that ‘thing that they do’ with a word.
So is that what training is? Little pockets in your day, your week, or your life, where you teach your dog a specific thing? And then that’s it, once they can sit, stay and dance to classic pop tunes then that’s the training over with? Training work is done and you and your dog can live happily ever after…?
All of that is fine and a fair reflection on what training has been traditionally, however the more we understand how dogs learn, how perceptive they are, and how adept they are at reading and responding to peoples emotions, the more I felt I should really be asking – what isn’t dog training?
Put it this way – I personally believe that we are training our dogs (and even other peoples dogs) every time we interact with them. Sure our dogs may be able to predict our routines and tell when ‘walkie’ time is after a few days in a new home, but even this is teaching them the reliability of this routine!
I firmly believe that we are training our dogs whenever they are learning something from us – and this is pretty much all of the time!
Now that must sound a little daunting at first – that everything we do can impact what our dog does and how it behaves – but think about how powerful that is! Every day with our dog is a chance to teach it something new, about the world, about our relationship, or about new and exciting experiences that we can share together.
A bit of basic science will help me explain here – I will keep it short! Basically, scientists and dog trainers around the world are now pretty much all in agreement on the importance of the laws of learning in animals (including humans). The most relevant here are as follows:
1) Dogs will continue to act in a way that results in positive outcomes (cheese, attention, getting to the park)
2) Dogs will no longer act in a way that results in negative outcomes (no cheese, being ignored, stopping on a walk)
These two little rules then mean that we really can (and do, whether we like it or not!) train our dogs every second of everyday. Here’s a few examples…
a)   Being calm and relaxed on the other end of the lead when meeting a new person can help our dog to learn that there is nothing to worry about and to be relaxed when you are relaxed. Learning – yes. Training – yes. Useful – yes!
b)   Calmly ignoring your dog when it jumps up to say hello, and lavishing it with fuss and attention when its four feet are on the floor can help our dog to learn that jumping up is a rubbish thing to do because it doesn’t get any attention – being calm and on all fours is the best choice. Learning – yes. Training – yes. Useful – yes!
c)   Understanding your dogs’ subtle body language when it is worried, nervous or anxious can then mean you can ignore it if appropriate to reassure the dog that you are not worried and they shouldn’t be either. Or alternatively it might mean you decide to turn and walk the other way from the loud roadworks up ahead, or that scary looking dog approaching. Either way you are teaching your dog to trust you and that you understand his emotional state and respect it too. Learning – yes. Training – yes. Useful – most definitely!
d)   And what about this one? Coming home to a dog that has chewed up your favourite shoes, sat next to them looking ‘guilty’ because he ‘know what he has done’ and telling him off means he will learn his lesson – and if he does it again he is just being spiteful? How this actually applies to the dog is he will have chewed the shoes for a reason – not because they are your shoes – maybe he’s teething, maybe he was anxious or bored, or maybe its because they smell of you (gross perhaps, but very charming for a dog to like your smell!).
His guilty looks are very likely a sign of fear and anxiety about the impending telling off – which he can predict if it has happened the last time you returned home, or the tension from your anger and frustration that he can sense from your tone of voice and less than friendly body language. And through all of this, he wont even think about the shoes, because he chewed them hours ago, and dogs memories do not associate punishment with things that happened in the past. So we have ended up training our dog;
–   to keep chewing shoes and shoe like things (because we haven’t taught him to do anything else, given him an alternative chew toy, or maybe we haven’t put our shoes somewhere he can’t get them)
–   to be worried when his owner gets home because the last few times he has been told off and he doesn’t know why.
Learning? – Yes. Training? Yes. Useful – Absolutely not!
We are constantly giving our dogs information about how they should feel, what behaviours are worth repeating and what behaviours just end up getting ignored and thus become boring and relatively useless. Sometimes we are not telling them what we think we are telling them, and sometimes we are not understanding their reply. This breakdown in communication is incredibly common, and thankfully very easy to address with a bit of effort and a curious mind.
So there we are, that sums up a little about why we do what we do here at the Underdog Trainer. Training is not simply about teaching basic commands or tricks, but it is about how you and your dog behave around each other all of the time. Really, we are all dog trainers all of the time, just most of us don’t know it yet.
It is always a great to keep in the back of your mind, that you have the power to teach your dog every second of every day – but it is also a responsibility that can have incredible results. With some basic knowledge of training, body language and why dogs behave like they do I believe every owner can help deepen their relationship with their dog in an empowering and positive way.
So, when will you train your dog next?


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