Dog Obedience. Does it ever sink in ... permanently? where you do not need to worry about you or your dog's safety without further training? I'm guessing that the answer is a resounding "no!" Some background to start. Wigglebutt Duncan is a Tibetan Terrier (a breed noted for its willful independence) came into our lives almost 4 years ago. Not having grandchildren (but ever hopeful), it was our chance to do everything the "right" way this time, unlike when we were new parents and basically clueless about raising children. Because I am a psychologist, I had an almost unhealthy need to 'understand' my puppy, now adult dog, so that I could create the perfect 'environment' to raise the perfectly behaved dog. He actually received his Good Canine Certificate when he was 9 months old and his behavior has never been the same since that wonderful day. You must be laughing as you read this. I am. As I am writing, Dunkie is barking up a storm at something unfathomable to me in order to have me call him to come and 'settle' for several minutes and then give him a treat for being quiet. Now I've been told time and time again that there is a 2 second rule, whereby reward (reinforcement) needs to follow in order for the dog to connect the correct behavior with the reward. So how does one reward the absence of behavior? I'm still trying to figure that one out, and may need to eventually consult with professionals as all the books I've read have not helped. I digress.
What, actually, is dog obedience? We learn how to 'teach' our dogs 'commands' (or requests on my part) in puppy obedience and basic obedience classes; we practice doing these behaviors with distractions to earn our Good Canine Citizen certificate. Some of us train further in advanced obedience, Rally Obedience, and Agility. And then we expect our dogs to be perfectly well-trained for the rest of their lives because they have mastered these commands, and we humans are absolutely sure that our dogs' desire to please us will imbue them with the ability to retain all that learning whenever requested. Giant laugh out loud. Dog obedience is more complex. It is an ongoing process of continuing to: Reward behaviors you want to see repeated; verbally correct behaviors that you do not want to see repeated; and refrain from rewarding those undesirable behaviors. But there's a rub in all this. People are lazy about continuing training, and dogs are lazy about doing our bidding unless we insist or reward, preferably the latter. A good place to have fun training is at a dog park where you can practice on focus.
- Dunkie focusing and waiting for the treat and release
So what's a solution that can be a win-win for both dog and owner? Take treats or toys with you whenever you go for a walk with your dog. Not only will the dog anticipate it being a fun time (well ... maybe not fun, but more enjoyable), but also you can use the walk to intermittently reinforce any 'requests' you make of your dog. Mark any correct behavior with a click or a "yes" to let the dog know that it has performed correctly. Then "fade" the treats by providing them on an intermittent basis. In learning theory, behaviors that are learned with 'intermittent reinforcement' are the hardest to extinguish because people or animals will always expect a reward, and continue to do the behavior in the hopes of receiving a treat. It's not much different from people who continue to gamble after multiple losses because they have had intermittent winning streaks spread through their gambling life. Second, communicate with your dog or dogs. They like it. They like hearing your voice, especially if you are happy, and they will pick up on your enjoyment. We think that we communicate with our dogs regularly, but I often see people on their cell phones or texting when walking their dogs rather than being "in the moment" with them. Finally, walk 'enthusiastically!' Dogs are very visual creatures and see every nuance in your behavior. So "walk the walk" of fun. My dogs are a bit tentative about going out after dark to do their business. If I walk confidently out before them as though we are going on adventure, they are less fearful. And we all have fun.
The most important aspect of training is that it does not end with the class. When all is considered, a little bit of training per day (as little as 5 minutes) goes a long way to rehearse and reinforce behaviors that you want continued. The more often you train your dog, the more likely you will build a stronger sense of connection through increased physical and mental stimulation. You will end the walk with a happy, tired dog. And you will be a happier owner because you will be able to better trust your canine companions.