How important is it to teach your canine companion what you would like them to do?
I believe it is extremely important but what is even more essential is that you teach in a way that doesn’t cause any stress; that you teach in a way that is fun for both teacher and student; that you teach in such a way that each ‘lesson’ is easy to understand; that you teach in a way that not only encourages learning but enhances it and that you teach in a way that makes all learning feel like a game!
I also maintain that in order to successfully teach any companion animal, you need to understand animal learning theory – you need a good foundation of the knowledge and skills that underpin science based, rewards based, force-free training!
Whether you are looking to reduce unwanted behaviors or would love your pet to know some cool tricks, the learning process is the same. Whether you are looking for effective management strategies or want to know how to teach your buddy to walk on a loose leash, the philosophy behind all of your interactions with your pet should be the same: A philosophy based on your belief that we do not need to punish our companions in order for them to learn – a philosophy based on the latest scientific research!
I am not implying that you need to be a scientist in order to teach your pet and I’m not implying that you need to study all the latest literature. I’m not even implying that you need to ‘master’ every single ‘positive’ training strategy that is available for you to use. I do, however, believe that you should have a foundation of knowledge and skills.
Misinformation abounds about the ‘best’ ways to ‘train’ your dog. The access to information has never been easier. Unfortunately, much of the information available isn’t based in fact and worst still, a lot of it could prove extremely detrimental to your pet’s physical and mental well-being and the relationship you share with each other. You only have to read some of the posts on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media to be inundated with ‘advice’ on how to deal with a specific problem or how to teach a specific behaviour. Do a search on the internet and you will, without doubt, find the answer you are looking for or will you? You may think that you have the answer but, if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of learning theory, how will you know that the answer is the right one?
There are many ways to teach a behaviour but not all of them are going to promote a healthy, happy bond for you and your buddy. Not all of them are going to be in your pet’s best interest. What appears to be a ‘quick fix’ may be anything but when the consequences of your ‘teaching’ methods resurge at a later date.
Let’s take a look at a behaviour that most people are going to teach their pet dog: a sit.
‘Easy’ you say. Yes, it’s not difficult to teach but how are you going to teach it? Are you going to push your companion’s bum to the floor and command them to sit? Are you going to push their bum to the floor, tell them to sit and then tell them good girl or good boy? Are you going to pull up on their collar, tell them to sit and then give them a treat? Are you going to wait until you see them sitting and then say ‘Yay, good sit!’ Are you going to tell them to sit and then lure them into position with a piece of yummy food? All of these methods will ‘work’ so which option would you choose? My choice? None of the above! Some are much better methods than the others and I hope you can spot which ones I am referring to, but none of them would be the path I would take.
I would choose the path of modern, science based, rewards based, force-free training. ‘Mmm’ I hear you say, ‘ a few of the above options use rewards’. Yes they do, but none of them are the most effective way to teach your companion how to sit!
So, I hear you ask: ‘How would you teach a sit?’ I would teach it carefully, I would teach it thoughtfully. I would teach it clearly. I would teach it ‘precisely’. I would teach it with all future learning in mind. I would teach it in such a way as to promote accelerated learning. I wouldn’t just use a ‘reward’, I would use a ‘reinforcer’. I wouldn’t use a ‘command’ and I wouldn’t even, initially, use a cue! I would teach it the TrickMeister way! I would teach it as a trick! “What?” I hear you say, “Why would you teach it as a trick? My answer? I teach all behaviours as tricks and I teach all tricks in a way that fulfills all the above mentioned criteria: Carefully, thoughfully, clearly, precisely… and much more!
By teaching behaviours as ‘tricks’ I teach in a playful way and in a fun way but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to learn the mechanics; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to understand ‘learning theory’; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to know the difference between a ‘command’ and a ‘cue’ or the difference between a ‘reward’ and a ‘reinforcer’. I had to work on my skill-set and I had to build on my knowledge. I needed to learn how to ‘cleanly’ lure a behaviour. I needed to learn about fading the lure. I needed to learn about ‘marking’ a desired behaviour. I needed to learn how to break my ‘lessons’ down into easily achievable steps. I needed to learn about training in ‘sets’. I needed to learn when I should add the cue…
I’ll let you into a secret – I’m still learning! I love to learn and my dogs love to learn! My students love to learn and their dogs love to learn! Why? Because learning is fun! Learning is a game! Every interaction we have is a chance to learn! I will never stop learning!
If you are a pet dog owner who is interested in learning how to teach your pet or you are a trainer who would like to improve your skills and knowledge and perhaps introduce a ‘trick’ or even a new ‘manners’ programme to your training curriculum then please take a look at the TrickMeister programme. The money you spend now will put you on the right path for all your future learning and could even increase your business’s future revenue.
For more information, please go to: DogNostics eLearning.
Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A. Hons. (Univ. of Leeds). Professional Canine Trainer – Accredited through The Pet Professional Accreditation Board. Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Fun Scent Games Instructor. Clicker Competency Assessment Program Level 3 Distinction. Force-Free Instructor’s Award and K9 First Aid Certification. Animal Behavior and Welfare Verified Certification. Super Trainer Clicker Trainer. Dog Emotion and Cognition Verified Certification. Performed as the Dog Trick Instructor at In The Doghouse DTC.
Louise is a passionate advocate of Force-Free Training, promoting a positive image of the “Bully” Breeds and advocating against Breed Specific Legislation in favor of breed neutral laws and education about dog bite safety and prevention. Proud “Mum” to Jambo – Staffy Bull Terrier Trick Dog: The first Staffordshire Bull Terrier to achieve the Title of Trick Dog Champion. Louise has her own YouTube Channel where she shares “How to Teach” videos and fun trick videos. Jambo has been aired on “Talent Hounds” TV in Canada. Jambo was also featured as a Victoria Stilwell “Positively Success Story”.
Louise blogs for The Pet Professional Guild and is a regular contributor to BARKS from the Guild magazine. She is a Steering Committee Member of PPG; Steering Committee Member and the Membership Manager of the Pet Professional Guild British Isles; Co-presenter of PPG World Services radio; Faculty Member of DogNostics Career College; Steering Committee Member of Doggone Safe and Regional Coordinator of Doggone Safe in Spain. Louise is a passionate advocate of Force-Free Training. She believes that everyone should know how to teach their dog using science based, rewards based, force-free training methods and that all learning should be fun! Louise is also the creator of TrickMeister, a unique program aimed at increasing the knowledge and training skills of both dog guardians and pet professionals.