Thursday, February 26, 2009

Training Tips Thursday with Terry Cuyler

Your dogs have been busy acquiring all sorts of new behaviors. Some you meant to teach them, and some you didn’t. Your dogs are always learning. They are opportunistic and will do what works for them. So make sure you are teaching behaviors you like.

Dogs do what works for them and will repeat behaviors they have found rewarding in the past. If you want your dog to continue to do a behavior – reinforce it. The old saying "you get what you pay for" works here. The trick is in finding things that are rewarding for the DOG not what you think ought to be rewarding.

Petting and praise may not be rewarding enough for the dog to learn to sit politely at the door when guests arrive. Jumping and being excited to see guests is rewarding all by itself so you’ll have to pay a bonus to overcome the dog’s excitement and get him to be calm at the door. Read your dog to see what they really love. Is it food, a toy, a chance to run after a ball? Use the favorite thing to reward the behavior you want. As the wanted behavior becomes a habit, you can reward it less often or lower the value and quantity of the reward.

You can’t explain in English to you furry foreign language student – you have to show him/her what the behavior is you want. Lure them into acting out what you want and then reward. Use tasty treats to get him to sit at the door instead of jump on people and then reward with non –stop rewards while the guest comes in. In a few days of practice, he’ll be sitting at the door because it works better for him than jumping. Gradually ease off the treats as it becomes a habit. Reward sporadically just the quickest or longest sits and they'll try those more often.

In another blog post I suggested that the first step was acquiring the understanding of a cue for a behavior and the next step is automatically performing that behavior when the cue/command is issued. A dog uses this behavior automatically when he hears the doorbell and sits and looks for his treat. To get to this stage, the behavior must be practiced over and over again. Ring doorbell, sit, get treat. Ring doorbell, sit, get treat. You need to set this up when you’re not actually expecting guests and repeat it over and over until it becomes a habit. Then the dog has made the connection that the doorbell itself is a cue to sit for a reward. Then prepare for the next time the doorbell rings by having some treats handy.

When the doorbell rings, be ready with some treats for your dog. If you’re not ready, how can they know what you want? To make a behavior a habit, you have to have repetition or you just have an isolated incident. So repeat the whole sequence several times to help your best friend succeed and then watch him excel.

Today's Guest Post was written by Terry Cuyler. For more information on Terry and all the cool things she is doing, check out her website here.

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