Many pet owners probably feel they have little choice but to rely on specialized products and pricey training services to keep their little ones safe and to ensure they don’t harm others or their surroundings. However, there are other, more natural – and, perhaps, more economical – ways to encourage their good behavior.
One alternative is to commit yourself to reward-based training, which essentially means offering them positive reinforcement when they do what you want. As suggested by the old saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” this approach can often work wonders when it comes to getting your dog or other pet to do the right thing.
Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that what humans consider “good” behavior may not come naturally to your pet. It is totally natural, for example, for young puppies to want to chew, nip and jump on people and furniture when they are excited. Nevertheless, it is important that these members of your family are taught not to do these things so that one and all can happily and safely co-exist.
With the above in mind, below are the basics of reward-based training:
Rewards. Most dogs are food-motivated and you should use this to your advantage in shaping your little one’s view of the world. When you bring home a new pet – whether it is a young puppy or an older rescue – stock up on training treats, preferable ones that are small and don’t have too many calories. You can find them at supermarkets and pet stores, online, or at big-box retailers – or you can make your own. Alternatively, you can even use your dog’s kibble. Removing a few from his daily food ration and using them as training treats is a great way to reward him as necessary while also keeping his weight under control.
Consistency. To encourage good behavior, you should try to ensure that your pet’s training routine and what is expected of him don’t change much, if at all. For example, if Mom doesn’t allow Bella to go crazy and jump up on her, Dad should follow suit, even if he gets a big kick out of such antics. If one pet parent isn’t toeing the line when it comes to training and “the rules,” any efforts to move things in a more positive direction could prove confusing to your little one and sadly ineffective.
Focus. Needless to say, your efforts should be directed at rewarding the behavior you either want to see or need to change. If your dog begs at the dinner table, giving him scraps of your plate sends the wrong message and makes it harder to turn him into a good little soldier. In this case, you would likely want to teach him to lie down away from where you have your meals – perhaps in his bed or crate – while you eat. If he remains in place, reward him with a heavy dose of treats. Through regular conditioning, your dog will eventually learn – and be happy – to stay put.
Flexibility. If you find that your pet doesn’t seem to respond well when you give him the typical treats or kibble, you might try to increase the “desirability” of your reward. For example, perhaps you can give him small, pinkie-nail-sized pieces of a hot dog or cheese instead. Bear in mind, of course, that high-fat and high-calorie treats should be used sparingly to minimize the prospect that your dog will experience unwanted weight gain and/or tummy troubles.
Timing. In many ways, mealtime works best when it comes to changing or reinforcing your pet’s behavior. Generally speaking, training your dog when he is hungry and awaiting food tends to produce faster and better results. A good starting point is to teach your little one to “come when called” at every meal. First, prepare his food and hold his dish in your hand. Using a cue word such as “come” or “here,” call him over – even if he is already waiting at your feet. When he responds, reward him by setting his dish down so he can start eating.
Once you have mastered the above routine, try to get him to do other things, including getting him sit down on your command. To do this, hold your dog’s feeding dish with food in it at waist level and ask your dog to “sit”. Once he does so, lower his bowl to the floor and give him the signal to go ahead with a cue word such as “okay” or “eat” If he happens to stand up as you lower the dish, pull t back up and have him try it again.
These and other such efforts will serve as a solid foundation that can be used in other training situations, though you should ensure that you have a few treats in your pocket to reward them for whatever it is that you want your pet to do.
Mistakes. Both dogs and humans sometimes get it wrong. If something bad happens or your dog starts regressing, don’t despair! Remain positive and try not to get frustrated, as some dogs may feed off your body language, emotions and any negative energy you may be throwing off. It’s not just the how you respond that matters, of course. Try to keep the experience positive for everyone. Review the plan with the whole family and remind them to stick with the training plan regardless of what might happen along the way.
Needless to say, you should not be looking to train him to do things that might hurt him or others, or that might prove counterproductive in other ways. He is a member of the family, after all, so there is little point in trying to get him to do something that you wouldn’t want to see in your own flesh and blood. Regardless, once he is trained to do the right thing, everyone is likely to be feeling pretty good about it.