In-Home Dog Training as a Conversation

Posted on February 10th, 2012 by FetchMasters in Positive Dog Training

Years ago, a mentor told me the best way to learn is to teach. Teaching (both the preparation and the interaction) has a way of triggering creativity and pushing us towards insight. I occasionally experience the reality of this when I conduct in-home dog training sessions in Denver, Colorado.

I frequently have little epiphanies, which I try to impart to my clients. Not every epiphany is suitable for every client or dog, but occasionally I come up with something I feel is universally useful. One recent epiphany that falls into the for-everybody category is that training a dog essentially is a conversation between a human and a dog.

Since conversation is a two-way proposition, thinking of it this way helps people look a little deeper into the process than they might look if their goal was simply getting their dog to sit or stay.

Here are three elements of the conversation you should be aware of when training your dog:

  • What you are telling your dog. Dogs have to learn to pay attention to us, to respond to their names, to focus on our words and gestures and pick out what is important. A big part of training is teaching a dog that listening to a human is useful and worth the effort. Some dogs seem to get this naturally; some do not. Training is a primary tool for developing this ability.And remember, how you say something is as important as what you say. It has to be said in a way that allows the recipient to hear. Be calm and patient when teaching your dog. If you are loud or impatient, your dog will stop hearing and start reacting — just like another human would.
  • What your dog is telling you. Don’t go into training with the idea that you just want your dog to do what he is told. Learn to observe your dog carefully. If you do, he will let you know what is going on in his skull. You may be able to tell by his eyes that he is trying to figure out what you want, or you may catch him experimenting with different behaviors. Dogs are constantly trying to figure out what works best, and noticing this tendency provides openings for discouraging unwanted behaviors and reinforcing desirable ones.
  • Creating a healthy bond. When we converse regularly with someone, we begin to develop an affinity with them — a bond based on mutual understanding. As we converse with a dog through training (as described in the above two points) and strive to elevate ourselves into a position of benevolent leadership (and training is chock-full of leadership implications), a healthy, respectful bond begins to form. The result usually is a dog that wants to please you. When that happens, the battle is mostly won.