Whilst some dogs may not be able to distinguish between a TV reflection and an intruder and others may look blankly at you when you ask them to find their toy, dogs are actually incredibly intelligent. We know this. No one watches Championship Agility and thinks - "Jeez, dogs are dumb." They have highly adaptive brains, they are incredibly responsive to positive reinforcement and can be successfully motivated if using the right motivation.
Yet time and time again I am seeing little to no chance for independent thinking in dog training. Have you ever heard a parent say, "I told you several times not to do that but you went and did it anyway and now you've learnt the hard way!"? We as humans are more responsive to learning via individual thinking and experience than we are just being told. Dogs are the same. That's not to say we want them to learn the hard way, we just want them to think for themselves and use their incredibly intelligent brains. Allowing a dog the time and space to work something out for themselves creates longer lasting, more reliable results than nagging them to do it does. No one enjoys being nagged, and chances are you'll stop listening. This is where 'selective hearing' comes from.
A very basic example = teaching your dog to Sit.
What I see most people doing: "Buster... sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit! SIT. SIT. SI... good boy!"
What I should be seeing: "Buster. Sit. Good boy!"
Nagging your dog does 3 things.
1. It lessens your bond. Why? It's annoying. Your dog likely plonks its bum down on the floor eventually just to shut you up and get the treat. Not a good learning experience!
2. It teaches your dog to sit only after you've said it 5-6 times in an increasingly frustrated voice.
3. It puts you off dog training. It doesn't motivate you. Simple.
Providing your dog is safe and not running wild, give them a chance to work out what it is you want them to do. Especially if you KNOW your dog understands what you are asking. You have a bit of chicken in your hand. They want it. You know they want it.
Ask for a sit. Use your hand signal if you have one.
Then... WAIT. Give them a chance. Count to 10.
If your dog wants what you've got, 9 times out of 10 they will do it. If they don't, wait for 10 seconds and then repeat the verbal cue once more. If they still don't sit after 10 seconds, they don't get the reward. At this point I would consider - does my dog know how to sit? Maybe it's time to re-train it.
Important: If your dog doesn't sit, don't give them the reward. So many people do this because they feel sorry for their dog (?), and then the dog thinks, "Ha! That's brilliant, I don't even need to sit down to get the treat. Definitely won't bother next time! Will just feign ignorance and cuteness for even longer."
This is the same for any type of dog obedience training. Sit. Down. Stand. Come. Heel. Paw. On Your Bed. Spin. Twist.
The reason I advise waiting for 10 seconds is to give your dog a chance to work out what it is you want them to do. If it takes longer than this, they either do not know what you are asking, or your reward is not motivating enough for them. Weigh up which one you think it is and try again, either using a better reward or going back to basics.
Allowing your dog to engage their brain will:
- Encourage independent thinking and problem solving which can help to reduce frustration and increase focus.
- Build the bond between you and your dog.
- Reduce their frustration, and yours!
- Result in a better trained, happier dog!
Have fun training!