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Obedience Training Your Dog – the Importance of Rewards

Rewards just may be the single most important motivator in dog training.  Obedience training through the use of rewards and other positive reinforcements has long been recognized as the most effective method of reaching most dogs and getting the best possible results.

Making obedience training fun and even making it a bit of a game can be very important to keeping both the dog and the handler motivated and willing to learn. Incorporating a period of playtime at the beginning and end of every training session will make sure that every session begins and ends on a good note.

The most basic of all obedience commands is heeling, or walking with the handler on a loose lead.  This is usually the first obedience behaviour that is taught and it is an easy one to teach through reward training.  Begin by fitting the dog with a quality, properly fitted training lead and training collar.  If you are unsure of how to fit the training collar, be sure to ask a dog trainer or the manager at the store where the equipment is purchased.

Start walking with the dog, always being cognizant of the dog’s position relative to your own.  If the dog begins to forge ahead, gently pull on the leash.  This will engage the training collar and give the dog a gentle reminder to slow down.  It may be necessary to apply greater pressure at first until the dog learns to accept the correction.

If the dog begins to fall behind, slow down and gently urge the dog forward.  The use of a lure, or a favorite toy, can be very useful when teaching the dog to walk at your side.  By keeping the lure at the desired position for the dog, he or she should quickly learn the desired location.

Always be sure to provide plenty of praise, treats, toys and other rewards when the dog does what is expected of him.  Dogs learn best by positive reinforcement.  Positive reinforcement means that when the animal does what the handler wants, it receives a reward, which can be anything from a pat on the head to a treat to a favorite toy.  At the beginning of training, even the slightest attempts to please the owner should be rewarded.

Training by using reprimands and punishment is not nearly as effective as training by using rewards.  Dogs can become discouraged and confused by excessive amounts of punishment and reprimands.  Reprimands may be required from time to time, to correct potentially dangerous behaviours like chasing or biting, for instance, but reprimands should be short and directly attributed to the problem behaviour at hand. After the immediate danger has passed, the training should continue with reward based training and positive reinforcement.

For instance, if you come home and your dog is chewing the furniture or other inappropriate item, immediately give the dog a sharp “No” or “Off” and take the item away.  Then immediately give the dog one of his toys or other items that he is allowed to chew on and praise the dog enthusiastically when he takes the toy and begins to chew it.  This will teach the dog to associate chewing some items, like his toys, with praise and chewing inappropriate items with reprimand.

It is very important for the dog to make these associations, since it is very hard to change negative associations once they have formed.  It is always much easier to train proper obedience behaviours the first time than it is to go back and retrain a problem dog later on.  That does not of course mean that retraining is impossible, it simply means that it is more difficult.

Teaching a puppy, or an older dog, to associate the behaviours you value, such as coming when called, sitting on command, walking at your side, chewing only on toys, etc. with happy, fun times is the basis of all successful dog training.

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Obedience training and your dog

Obedience training is one of the most important and most effective things any owner can do for his or her dog.  A properly obedience trained dog is a happy, productive and safe member of the family, while a untrained dog can be destructive and even dangerous.

Dogs are designed by nature to follow leaders and to look for that leadership.   As pack animals, dogs naturally follow the directions of their pack leader. In the absence of a strong leader, the dog may assume this role itself.  Dogs that think of themselves as the leader of their human pack can become uncooperative, destructive and even dangerous.

Proper obedience training opens up important lines of communication between handler and dog.  The basis of any obedience training program is to gain the cooperation and respect of the animal.  This respect cannot be exerted through rough handling methods or mistreatment.  It must instead be earned through leadership and proper training techniques.

Basic obedience training consists of teaching the dog what to do and what not to do.  When it comes to desired behaviors, it is important for the dog to learn and respond to basic commands, such as heeling when walking, stopping on command, sitting when directed, coming when called and staying where the handler directs.

The list of what not to do is also important when it comes to obedience training.  Some of the don’ts of obedience training include – not jumping up on people, not forging ahead when walking and, not chewing the furniture or your property and not getting out of control when exposed to novel situations.

In essence, obedience training involves establishing the social hierarchy that is so important to dogs as pack animals.  When your dog follows your obedience commands, such as – come, stay, sit, heel, etc., he or she is showing compliance and submissiveness.  This is the same type of behavior a submissive member of a wild dog pack would show to the alpha dog in that pack.

As with any type of dog training, it is important that obedience training sessions be fun and rewarding for both dog and handler.  A happy, healthy dog will be best able to learn and keeping the dog happy during the training sessions will make life easier for both yourself and your dog.  Obedience training has many benefits for the dog as well as the handler.  For one thing, a well trained, obedient dog can be permitted a larger amount of freedom than an untrained dog.  For instance, a dog that has been properly trained to come when called can safely enjoy some off leash play time at the local park.

There is always a debate over whether it is easier to obedience train puppies or older dogs.  The fact is that both puppies and older dogs can be successfully trained to be willing, obedient companions.  It is generally easier to train puppies and young dogs than it is to retrain dogs that have developed behavior problems.  Even problem dogs, however, can be successfully retrained using basic obedience training and control concepts.

When obedience training puppies, however, it is important to remember that puppies generally have a shorter attention span than to do full grown dogs.  It is important, therefore to keep training sessions short in the beginning.  It is also important to incorporate lots of play with other puppies, dogs and other animals, as well as lots of different people.  Proper socialization is very important to creating a safe, healthy and happy companion dog.

There are many obedience training classes held in all parts of the country, and new puppy and dog owners are encouraged to enroll in one of these classes.  Not only do puppy kindergarten and dog obedience classes provide important structure for the dogs, but it provides important chances for properly socialization the puppy as well.