How to Help Your Dog Understand What You Want
by Robin MacFarlane
Every dog is a little different. What motivates one may not motivate the next one.
Previously, I've written that the single most important piece of knowledge you need to train with a remote collar is an understanding of how to help your dog to understand what the stimulation means (See article: "The One Thing You Must Know if You Want to Train with an E-Collar").
I'd like to share some thoughts on how you can do just that.
Every dog is a little different. What motivates one may not motivate the next one. What causes one dog a sense of frustration has no negative impact on the other. We have to learn to be in the moment with the dog we have in front of us and not make assumptions based on previous dogs, breed, age, or gender.
This is why we are best prepared when we have a large reservoir of training ideas to draw on. The only way to develop a large reservoir is to add more information.
Expanding creativity is why I personally have studied so many trainers and their various techniques and tips for gaining a behavior. I've attended workshops and taken tips from protection trainers, bird dog trainers, clicker trainers, those who do scent work, accomplished freestyle, trick, and competition trainers.
I don't have time to pursue ALL of those niches, but there is always something to be learned by reading a book or attending a seminar.
Many times I learn something that I want to adopt and add to my protocols and occasionally it may be a tip or technique I don't want to repeat. But why toss the baby with the bathwater just because there is one aspect that I don't agree with?
I love the saying: "A mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open."
I think we should take that sentiment to heart. If we get stuck on a training problem with our dogs (or our client's dogs), how about stepping back for a moment to see if we can find a new way forward rather than just giving up and then making excuses?
Or worse, continue pushing forward with a technique that clearly isn't working.
When training with a remote collar, I make sure my students develop, at minimum, an understanding of the following tools and techniques so they are adequately prepared to help the dog through any potential confusion:
- How to lure and reward using treats or toys.
- How to physically model a dog into a position.
- How to use a leash or long line to induce and prompt behavior.
- How to use our body language to influence the dog's positioning and behavior.
I consider those four areas the base reservoir for helping our dogs learn. When the dog is struggling to understand what we want them to do, simply turning up the level of stimulation is not going to be the answer.
Turning up pressure is often the solution to help overcome distraction problems or obvious refusal, but it is not the solution for resolving confusion.
Training confusion is cleared up by dog handlers growing their reservoir of creativity and becoming competent in various techniques that assist the dog in getting it right.
The "how to help" factor is the hinge upon which we teach our dogs to either succeed or fail.
So here is my 30-day challenge for you, particularly those of you that have been training for a while and haven't stepped outside your comfort zone recently.
Pick a book or seminar that is tool or method-wise very different than what you're already comfortable with. Read the entire book or sign up to attend the workshop. But do it with an open mind. Every time you want to chime in and protest "why it doesn't work," sit back and just listen. See if you can let it really soak in in a non-judgmental way before you shut down any learning potential.
If what you have learned feels do-able (even though it may be difficult because it is new), then make an honest effort to put the ideas to practice.
I can tell you that learning something different doesn't happen overnight, so give it 30 days or so. Not only will you have expanded your knowledge reservoir, you will have a reminder of what it feels like to learn again.
That alone will give you more empathy for how your dog feels when he is trying to get it right.
Ready, set, pull the parachute cord!
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.