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Dog Training

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From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, by MultiMedia

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Dog training is the process of teaching a dog to exhibit certain desired behaviors in specific circumstances. Some examples are:

  • Teaching a dog basic obedience commands (part of obedience training)
  • Teaching a dog to perform tricks casually or for circus acts
  • Teaching a guide dog to lead the blind
  • Teaching a rescue dog to find victims of a disaster
  • Helping a hunting dog learn to perform its instinctive behaviors at appropriate times

The specific behaviors taught in each case are different, but the underlying principles are similar.

In the wild as pack animals, canines have natural instincts that favor training. These instincts are manifested when the dog lives with humans as a desire to please a handler, as a dog would please senior members in a pack in the wild. The handler is simply whoever is working with a dog at the time.

Basic training

Most dogs, no matter their advanced training or intended purpose, live with people and therefore must behave in a way that makes them pleasant to have around and for their own safety and that of other people and pets. For the happiness of both the dog and the owner, basic obedience is enforced through the training procedure.

Age for early training

Dog training begins virtually at birth. Dogs that are handled and petted by humans regularly during the first eight weeks of life are generally much more amenable to being trained and living in human households. Ideally, puppies should be placed in their permanent homes between about 8 and 10 weeks of age. In some places it is against the law to take puppies away from their mothers before the age of 8 weeks. Before this age, puppies are still learning tremendous amounts of socialization skills from their mother. Puppies are innately more fearful of new things during the period from 10 to 12 weeks, which makes it harder for them to adapt to a new home.

Puppies can begin learning tricks and commands as early as 8 to 12 weeks of age; the only limitations are the pup's stamina, concentration, and physical coordination. It is much easier to live with young dogs that have already learned basic commands such as sit. Waiting until the puppy is much older and larger and has already learned bad habits makes the training much more difficult.

Basic training classes

Professional "dog trainers" usually do not train the dogs, but actually train the owners how to train their own dogs. It is crucial for the owner and the dog to attend class together, to learn more about each other and how to work together. Training is most effective if everyone who handles the dog takes part in the training to ensure consistent commands, methods, and enforcement.

Formal training in classes is not always available until the puppy has completed all its vaccinations at around 4 months; however, some trainers might offer puppy socialization classes in which puppies can enroll immediately after being placed in their permanent homes as long as disease risk is minimal and puppies have receieved initial vaccinations. In most cases, basic training classes accept only puppies who are at least 3 to 6 months old.

Communicating with the dog

Fundamentally, dog training is about communication. The handler is communicating to the dog what behaviors are correct in what circumstances. A successful handler must also understand the communication that the dog sends to the handler. The dog can signal that he is unsure, confused, nervous, happy, excited, and so on. The emotional state of the dog is an important consideration in directing the training.

There are a four important messages that the handler can send the dog:

Reward marker
Correct behavior. You have earned a reward. This can be signaled with treats, toys, praise, or simply a release command such as "Free" or "OK".
Bridge
Correct behavior. Continue and you will earn a reward. "Good"
No reward marker
Incorrect behavior. Try something else. "Uh-uh" or "Try again"
Punishment marker
Incorrect behavior. You have earned punishment. Punishments vary, and range from a simple "No" to some kind of physical correction.

These messages do not have to be communicated with words. Dogs are not born understanding these messages. They must be taught. Other signals can be used. In particular, clickers are frequently used for the reward marker. It is critical that the signals or words used for these messages are used with absolute consistency. If the handler sometimes says "good" as a reward marker and sometimes as a bridge, it is difficult for the dog to know when he has earned a reward. The handler must always reward the dog in some manner after using the reward marker, treat, play, praise, etc. Failure to reward after the reward marker diminishes the value of the reward marker and makes training more difficult.

For example, consider one method of teaching a dog to down on command. The handler puts some food in his hand and puts his closed hand on the ground in front of the dog. When the dog lies down, the handler says "free" and opens his hand rewarding the dog. Once the dog has this concept the handler puts a command with the behavior. The handler says "down", waits a beat, then puts his closed hand on the floor. If after a bit the dog does not lie down, the handler says "uh-uh" waits for the dog to offer the correct behavior. When the dog does lie down, the handler says "free" and rewards the dog. Later the handler will want to prolong the down before rewarding the dog. The handler says "down" and the dog lies down. Then the handler says "good", encouraging the dog to continue the behavior. After a moment the handler says "free" and rewards the dog. Suppose the handler says "down" and the dog jumps up on the handler and starts biting at the treat bag. The handler says "no" and punishes the dog in an appropriate manner. Frequently use of the word "no" is sufficient punishment. Note that the reward marker and punishment marker end the behavior. Once the handler gives either of those messages, the dog is no longer expected to perform the requested behavior.

Reward and punishment

Most training revolves around giving the dog a reward, such as treats (food or favorite toys), attention, or praise when it obeys, and withholding rewards when it does not.

Punishment is also useful in training, although "punishment" does not mean beating the dog. A sharp No works for many dogs, but even some dogs show signs of fear or anxiety with harsh verbal corrections. Punishments are administered only as appropriate for the dog's personality, age, and experience. Trainers generally advice keeping hand contact with the dog to positive interactions; if hands are used to threaten or hurt, some dogs may begin to behave defensively when stroked or handled.

Keeping a puppy on a leash in challenging situations or in his crate or pen when not closely supervised prevents the puppy from getting into situations that might otherwise invite an owner's harsh reaction (such as chewing up a favorite pair of shoes).

The command voice

When giving commands to a dog, a calm, firm, authoritative voice is most effective. Dogs do not respond well to hesitant, pleading voices, nor to yelling, which might sound to the dog like threatening barking or scolding. It is also important that the word used for the command and the pitch of the voice be consistent each time the command is delivered so that the dog can more easily learn what the owner means (siiiiiiiiiiiit does not sound the same as sit, for example).

Using the puppy's name before a command ensures that the dog knows that a command is coming, that it is for him (rather than for other dogs, children, or people), and that he should pay attention. This is important because dogs hear a lot of human speech that has no relevance for them at all, and it is easy for them to disregard commands amongst the babble.

To reinforce the command, the dog always gets some kind of reward or reinforcement (praise and usually a treat or toy) when it performs the action correctly. This helps the dog to understand that he has done a good thing.

Note that not all dogs are trained to voice command. Many working breeds of dog are not trained to a voice command at all; they are taught to obey a combination of whistles and hand signals. Deaf dogs are perfectly capable of learning to obey visual signals alone. Many obedience classes teach hand signals for common commands in addition to voice signals; these signals can be useful in quiet situations, at a distance, and in advance obedience competitions.

The specific command words are not important, although common words in English include sit, down, come, and stay. Short, clear words that are easily understood by other humans are generally recommended; that way, people will understand what a handler is telling his dog to do and other handlers have a good chance of controlling someone else's dog if necessary. In fact, dogs can learn commands in any language or other communications medium, including whistles, mouth sounds, hand gestures, and so forth.

Training tricks

Many dog owners teach their dogs tricks. This serves several purposes: Develops a stronger relationship between the dog and human; provides entertainment; and engages the dog's mind, which can help to alleviate problems caused by boredom. For example, the shake hands trick involves the dog raising its paw and placing it into an outstretched hand. An example of a useful trick is teaching a dog to ring a bell to go outside. This helps prevent the stress placed on an owner when trying to recognize whether the dog needs to relieve itself. For more information, see clicker training.

Teething

At anywhere from three to six months of age, a puppy begins to get its adult set of teeth. This period can be quite painful and many owners do not recognize the natural need to chew. By providing specific chew toys designed to ease the pain of teething (such as a frozen nylon bone), attention can be diverted from table legs and other furniture.

Specialized training

Dogs are also trained for specific purposes, including:

Guard animals

Regarding dogs, due to their natural social structure which is terrirtorial protective of companions, even companion animals will exhibit some form of alert behaviors toward intruders. However true guard dogs and police dogs are dedicated animals in the sense that they are not simultaneously intended to be companion animals.

There are several methods regarding the training of guard animals, western (e.g. Koehler Method) and eastern, and certain breeds are typically used in this capacity. The Schutzhund method also contains a portion relating to protection, and generally means the animal will bite on command, and will not release until commanded.

Positive punishment can include electric shocks related to attempting to eat food other than in the designated food receptacle, for example so a guard dog is not tempted by food given to to it by an intruder.

Service animals

Service dogs, such as guide dogs, are carefully trained to utilize both their sensory skills and the protective instincts of dogs (as pack animals) to bond with a human and help that person to offset a disability in daily life. The use of service dogs is an every-growing field, with wide range of special adaptations.

See also


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