January is Train Your Dog Month, and while working on this week’s Paw Prints, I have been sidetracked several times. Seems like there are “special recognition days and months” for just about everything. I certainly did not know that there was a “Squirrel Appreciation Day” celebrated every January… and although we feed the squirrels and enjoy watching their antics, I never imagined how many sites feature this special day.

I don’t know how effective squirrel training might be, but I do know that dog training is a vital aspect of responsible pet care. Inappropriate behavior is a major reason given when a dog is relinquished to a shelter, which is sad for both the humans and the dog, especially when most problems could be resolved. Dog training is not just an 8 week class; it is an ongoing effort that will continue for the life of your dog, and, like people, no two dogs are alike, so they respond differently, but the best way to change unwanted behavior is by positive reinforcement. If you want your dog to do something, find a way for it to make sense to her and she will respond, and be reasonable in your expectations… a dog is a dog is a dog!

  • When it’s time to train, put aside your frustrations of the day, and focus on the positive relationship you would like to have with your dog. Training should be an enjoyable experience for both you and the dog, and if you are not in the right mood for training, don’t even start the session.
  • Always ask yourself what you want your dog to do in any given situation. If you don’t know, she can’t possibly know either. Sometimes it is possible to prevent the dog from making a mistake in the first place by teaching her substitute behaviors. Instead of jumping up on people, teach her to sit. Instead of chewing on shoes, provide appropriate dog chew toys (and put your shoes away so they are not temptations) She will soon learn that sitting gets a better reaction than jumping up, and that scraping human body parts with her paw doesn’t get her a walk in the park.
  • Use whatever reinforcement your dog enjoys the most, something highly prized…treats and praise rate high with most dogs.
  • Dogs respond best to short, calm commands. Use exactly the same word every time, and avoid constantly repeating a command. Say it once, using a firm tone that is crisp and cheerful. Then wait for compliance.
  • Timing is important. Delayed reinforcement seldom works. Your dog sits, but by the time you say, “Good dog,” she is standing again…so what are you encouraging? Re-enforcing too quickly is also ineffective as giving rewards for behavior that has not yet occurred simply creates confusion.
  • Use all of your dog’s behaviors to earn him “what he wants.” Make getting anything that your dog desires a learning opportunity. It doesn’t matter what behavior you ask for, as long as you ask the dog to do “something” in exchange for a valuable reward.
  • Training should never involve any negative or punishment-based component… no yelling, hitting or chain jerking. Each session should be upbeat and positive with rewards for well done.
  • When training, it is important to be consistent with sessions every day, and repetition is important. Everyone is busy, busy, busy, but, If possible, short sessions two or three times daily will work miracles with your dog…and don’t forget to feed the squirrels!!!

While we are busy teaching our dogs to sit, stay, and roll over, they are teaching us love, loyalty and joy.—Yorinks