Trainer Jessica Wheatcraft of Synergy Dog Training in San Diego, Calif., holds a CPDT-KA certification from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers and has a decade of experience training dogs and their masters.
Her positive, rewards-based philosophy focuses on training dogs what you want them to do rather than punishing them for doing something wrong. “I help people have better relationships with their dogs,” she says. “Most training issues are due to a lack of effective communication between dog and owner.”
Tips for Success
As you approach any training with a dog, keep these three tips in mind:
- Identify what your dog finds most reinforcing. For example, not all dogs work best for treats. Some dogs may prefer tug-o-war or fetch as a reward. For dogs who do enjoy treats, you may need to vary the treats. If your dog has a weight issue, remember to count those treat calories as part of his or her diet.
- If things aren’t going well, stop and evaluate rather than blaming the dog. Ask yourself, are you using the right reinforcers? Are you asking too much of your dog too soon?
- Make sure you are practicing around different levels of distraction. “Dogs don’t generalize training very well,” Jessica explains. Just because your dog has learned sit at home doesn’t mean he’ll understand it at the park. “To help your dog generalize a behavior, you have to work in different environments and with different distractions.”
The spin is a fun and easy trick to teach your dog.
Follow these steps:
- Put a treat in your hand, and place it close to your dog’s nose. Have the dog follow the target into a circle.
- When the dog is about two thirds of the way through the circle, give him a marker word, such as “yep” or a clicker to communicate that is what you want, and follow by giving the dog the treat as he completes the circle.
- Once the dog is consistently going into the circle, add a cue word before you circle, such as the word “spin.”
- When your dog is consistently performing, remove the treat from your hand but keep it nearby. Pretend you still have the treat in your hand, follow the steps above, and then hand the dog the treat from the other hand or from the bag as his reward.
- Eventually you can make the hand cue more subtle, such as using your pointer finger.
- You can then add difficulty by asking for two spins before you mark and treat.
Have you ever been out walking, and your dog becomes so distracted there’s nothing you can do to get his or her attention? This lesson will help teach your dog to turn to you for direction.
- Keep your treats handy and start in a place with little distraction, such as the living room.
- Whenever your dog looks up into your eyes, mark the behavior with your marker word and a treat. This becomes a game.
- Soon you can move to a different room, repeat 10 repetitions, then try it from different angles, out in the yard, etc.
- Add a distraction, such as a toy held out in the opposite hand. When your dog checks in, mark and treat. Move on to trying it on walks. “They learn that if they look at something else but then check in with you, that’s a good idea,” Jessica says. “Start marking and feeding whenever your dog is checking in. That’s an easy way to build in automatic attention and focus.”
Eventually it becomes your dog’s default behavior to check in with you when he or she sees a distraction.
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