Dog Training – Three Stages of Dog Training

There are three stages of dog training and it is crucial that you understand them if you are going to effectively train your dog properly. When you understand each one, you will be able to identify your dog’s progress and use this to sharpen many aspects of your dog’s training.

If you are interested in teaching tricks or doggy dancing, then it is extremely important that you learn to recognise these different phases. You will find that your dog will progress at different stages for different behaviours. As you shape your dog’s responses you will have to keep in mind what stage your dog is up to in its development.

If you wanted to teach your dog to drop, roll over, play dead and then jump back up again. You would need to do this in segments. It would be impossible to teach it as one movement. Your dog will need to first learn how to drop, then roll over – all the way, then lay its head down and then it would have to learn that it couldn’t get up until you gave it a release command. This can be achieved by chaining the separate actions together. As you began teaching each stage separately you will need to be aware of the different phases your dog is up to in its learning.

The first stage is the teaching phase. At this stage, we are literally teaching or showing the dog what it is that we want him or her to do. We use rewards and/or treats after every successful attempt during this stage and we must be very patient.

The teaching phase involves you showing your dog what it is that you want. This may involve handling your puppy and using luring to get your dog into a position that you want.

When we are teaching sit, we hold a treat right in front of the dog’s nose and then move it backwards. The dog will naturally move into a sit position then you will reward and release. If the dog doesn’t move into the position that you want, it doesn’t get the treat. As you place the treat in front of the dog’s nose, give the command ‘sit’ as well. Once your dog will simply ‘sit’ without you luring it into position, it has moved from the teaching to the training phase. This will happen almost over night with most puppies but other commands may take weeks if not months to train.

It is important in behavioural training to remember the teaching phase too. For example, some dogs and most puppies cannot help themselves and have to jump all over you. If your dog is learning to ‘sit’ and is in the teaching phase you cannot expect to be able to redirect it and reward for sitting. You may have to hold your puppy in a sit or ‘four on the floor’ position, as I call it, and then reward with a pat. You can do this by putting your thumb in its collar and holding it down. If the puppy goes to jump up, hold it down and give it long firm strokes down its back and praise the puppy in a calm voice.

When your puppy has learnt not to jump on you but wait in a sit for a pat and the attention it craves, it is in the training phase.

The second stage is the training phase.

At the training phase we can begin to sharpen your dog’s response time and the way they respond. At this stage, you will have to be satisfied that your dog knows the command, both verbal and hand signals.

You should also be using treats intermittently during this stage too preparing to wean your dog off them completely.

If your dog knows how to sit but it kicks its legs out to the side or isn’t relaxed, now is the time to begin to sharpen up this behaviour. How? It’s easy. When you ask your dog to sit and it doesn’t do it the way you would like simply don’t reward. Say ‘no’; take a step back and then re-command ‘sit’. I always take a step back to give my dogs the opportunity and the space to correct their behaviour.

There is no need to use harsh corrections or to start yelling at your dog. I have very well trained dogs that hang off my every word. I have never hit them. I just don’t reward for behaviour I don’t want. Instead, I re-command and wait for them to think and then do what I do want.

Once you are confident that your dog has completed the training stage, it’s time for you to move him or her onto the proofing stage. This is the third stage.

There are as many different times and places to get your dog through to the proofing stage. They are only limited by your imagination. Proofing your dog means that your dog will perform any thing you have trained it to do any where. Some places that come to mind our children’s playgrounds, schools, dog parks, shops or near farm animals or livestock. Just make sure that you have your dog on leash and have control of it to avoid getting into trouble.

Most people make the mistake of taking their dog out in public long before it is ready. Sure, it can perform complicated tasks at home but in the park with so many other sights and smells? I don’t think so.

While I introduce basic obedience commands to my puppy classes, I say over and over again, this is the worse environment to begin teaching your puppy because there are far too many distractions. Who wants to learn to sit when there is a room full of other puppies and people to sniff, lick, roll around with and wreak havoc with? No sane puppy I know! So while I demonstrate the how’s and whys, I tell my clients that they will have to begin to practice these commands at home where it is quiet and there are few distractions.

When proofing your dog it is important to remember that you will have to take a few steps backwards in its training. Don’t expect too much and always, always reward for effort. If you begin to lose your temper and you appear to be nagging your dog to do something it doesn’t understand your dog will shut down and won’t listen to you at all.

You may also have to increase your dog’s motivation when proofing it. This means that you may have to use very special treats such as cheese or kabana, be much more enthusiastic with your voice and give very generous heart-felt pats. You are going to be up against a lot of very interesting distractions so you will have to arm yourself appropriately!

Always be patient and remember to reward what you want; wait patiently for what you would like from you dog and don’t use force or punishment. This will help you build a much more meaningful relationship with your dog based on trust and respect.

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