Training Your Dog for Working Trials
The first thing you need to begin training your dog for trials – whether it is a new puppy, a new rescue dog, or a dog you have had some time and you have just decided you would like to train for trials, is a relationship.
Dogs are wonderful creatures that, generally, try to please us – if only we can find a way to enable them to understand what it is we require from them. If we spend much of our time together telling the dog, "no!" for doing things we do not want him to do - we are not building a good relationship. We are not making ourselves fun to be with; we are not teaching the dog what we do want him to do. By constantly telling the dog what he is doing wrong (or nagging) you are teaching the dog that you are not good fun to be with and it is probably just as well to ignore you and find something better to do (the same effect occurs with spouses and children!).
Remember dogs do not have the concept of right and wrong and they do not understand the value of money. Ergo they cannot understand the problem with taking good food out of the kitchen bin, or why you get annoyed when they chew your brand new sofa. They certainly do not have the notion of doing something to spite you, or teach you any lesson! Dogs simply do what is good for them –what gives them immediate remuneration. They eat food out of the bin because it tastes good. Did it make a mess of your kitchen floor? Well as dogs are not prone to housework I guess they don’t really notice that. If you think ‘he knows he should not do it’ because he only does it when you are not there, he has learnt that he can do it when you are out. He cannot do it when you are there. There is no spite or disobedience involved – the dog has simply learnt what works best. Do you really think he damaged your expensive property to ‘get his own back’? He simply felt like chewing something. Having absolutely no concept of finances, the dog could not possibly understand your despair upon discovering the damage, save alone think if he does not do it, you will not be annoyed when you return home.
Building a relationship then, might begin by preventing the dog from doing things you do not want him to do so as you can stop telling him off. In the home you might consider crate training the dog and keeping food and expensive items out of his reach. Please note, I said crate training the dog – not just putting the dog in a crate. This would involve a training programme in which a good association is built with the crate. For example, the dog would be given food and nice things to chew in the crate and you could sit on the floor beside the crate, so rather than the early association with the crate being one of deprivation, it is one of treats and companionship. As the dog learns to relax in his crate, the time he stays in it can be increased without causing distress to the dog. Before long you will be able to leave the dog to relax in his crate whilst you get on with your chores, then when the dog comes out of the crate you will be able to give him your full attention. Now you can spend quality time together and encourage behaviours which are beneficial to both of you, such as playing with his toys and learning positive ways in which to gain your attention; sitting, or retrieving for example.
If the dog does things you do not want him to do whilst out on walks, keep him on the lead. This way you can both enjoy your walk without you nagging - assuming you can walk without having your arm stretched! There are many devices available to make lead walking more manageable even before you begin training this as an exercise. Take your dog with you to one of the larger pet stores and sort through the range of head collars and harnesses that are designed to prevent excessive pulling – just until you teach him how to walk on a lead properly.
Now you have found ways both indoors and out to eradicate the need to punish your dog, you can begin the fun part: building a good relationship with your dog. You will find fairly quickly that he is more inclined to listen to you now that every other word is not, "No!"
The new improved relationship will involve on-going pleasures that your dog receives from you throughout every interaction he has with you until he realises that, these days, you are the most fun thing in his life: you are the centre of his universe; you provide all his food and entertainment.
You may be aware that the use of the word ‘dominance’ is becoming outdated as new research demonstrates that earlier definitions of dog behaviour and dog to dog interactions were ill conceived. Whatever your take is on that, you will like the new description of ‘resource holding potential’, i.e. the potential of an individual to maintain possession of any resource (food, toys, bed, etc.) it wants to keep at any moment in time. In terms of developing a better relationship with your dog, this means you do not have to ‘dominate’ him or perform the ‘alpha rollover’ to win his respect. However, managing his food so that he ‘earns’ rations for good behaviour will not only make good behaviour rewarding for your dog but it will also improve your relationship with him. Instead of just putting a bowl of food on the kitchen floor at six o’clock every evening, you can reward him for going into his crate; reward him for coming when he is called ; reward him sitting when he is told; and so on. If you supply rewards as he does things you want to encourage, these are the things he will do more often: the things he finds rewarding.
Get into the habit of keeping some of his food in your pocket, or a little pouch and feed him little and often to encourage him to keep checking in with you. Soon he will be a living testimony to the phrase, ‘you will have him eating out of your hands.’ This is a good way of building a relationship. He will learn to follow you about and he will learn to want to please you – because these things give him an immediate payoff. Just check that you are feeding him for good behaviour and not for jumping, barking, or demanding food. When he tries any of these things, just ignore him. When he stops demanding for a second or two to work out why you are not giving him the food he knows you have, ask him to sit and reward him when he does. Before long he will be asking you what you want him to do in order to gain a reward. Now you have a dog that you can begin to train.