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The title of this article is actually how my TV provider listed a particular infomercial in their guide. I watched that informecial, and I saw nothing
revolutionary about the product it sold. It just appeared to be a repackaging of the same old forceful dog training methods that were used and
written about years ago.
These days, many dog trainers have rejected these methods, because they have learned a new and better way of
teaching dogs what they want them to know. But it was the title that really caught my attention: a title that I'm sure was meant to catch viewer
attention and sell viewers on the product.
And that got me thinking...

What is a "perfect dog?" Is there actually any such thing? I think some pet owners would probably say yes...in fact, as the "dog mom" of my
own motley crew of beloved pups, I would be tempted to say yes too! Certainly, all dogs are perfect at being dogs. But if you're referring to a
dog with perfect behavior, then honestly as a dog trainer, I would have to say that I’ve never met one. I’ve known many wonderful, well
mannered and well behaved dogs. I’ve known dogs whose behavior was impressive and pleasing to people: meaning they had been taught
a large variety of behaviors (including good manners,) which they performed regularly and often, on cue and with a very high degree of
reliability. There may be people who would see them as perfect. I see them as having been very successfully trained.    

Most people believe that training a dog is only about teaching them what they should or should not do. Once the dog understands what they’
re supposed to do, then they’ll do it, right?  Hmmmm…well, do you always do what you
should do? If you’ve answered this question honestly,
then the answer was probably no.

There are many things we know we should do, but because we’d rather not do them, or because there's something else we'd rather do, we
make excuses to justify skipping them. In fact if you were to examine your own behavior, you would realize that you are most likely to do things
that either:

  • A) you find to be the most pleasing to you; or  
  • B) you believe you need to do in order to sustain your life and/or lifestyle; or  
  • C) those things which have become habitual for you (usually started out as A or B).

I guess you could conclude that most of the things we do are not because we should do them, but because for one reason or another we
want to do them. I'm imagining that about now you may find yourself thinking, “well, I go to work every day, and I only do that because I have
to.” But I would argue that you go to work every day because you want to…or at least because you want to make the money that invariably
shows up in your paycheck. And I would also venture a guess that if your employer were to stop paying you, or decided to substitute glass
beads for money, you would stop showing up to work. I know that most people would. The exception might be that very rare person who
either really likes glass beads, or who finds their job intrinsically rewarding
and doesn't need an outside source of money.   

Dogs (along with most every other living creature) are inclined to do the things they want to do as well. When you understand this, you also
understand that training a dog just means teaching a dog to want to do the things you want them to do. The best way to teach a dog to want
to do something is to teach them to “work” for a reward. Rewards turn behaviors that aren’t intrinsically rewarding into opportunities to earn a
“paycheck.” In order to be effective, that paycheck should consist of something that the dog finds desirable. For many dogs that might mean
small bits of his regular food or perhaps special treats, but for others it might mean a play session or praise and affection; it might mean a
rest break, a drink of water, or the opportunity to sniff around; and it might even mean earning the opportunity to do more “work.” The point is,
there is no single thing that will be rewarding to all dogs. Each dog will decide for themselves what they find to be valuable enough to want to
work for it.
There are people who don’t understand this basic tenet of dog training. They want to believe that a dog should do what they’ve been taught,
simply to “please their master.”  They don’t want to use rewards to train their dog because they believe it should not be necessary.  They think their dog should want nothing more
than to please them. But realistically, the vast majority dogs are no more inclined to live their lives to please others than people are. There are exceptions of course, just as there are
“people pleasers” among us; but they are the exception, not the rule. And because most dogs don’t fit into this tiny mold, most people who choose not to use rewards to motivate
their dogs must resort to the use of force and coercion to get their dogs to do what they want. They teach their dogs to change and inhibit their behavior by  adding in something
unpleasant that the dog would rather avoid contact with whenever the dog makes choices they don't approve of. In fact, this is the foundation of correction based dog training.
Examples of this type of training would be remote or shock collar training, and the old jerk and pull way of working with a leash and choke collar. Proponents of this type of training
will often say that they prefer to teach the their dogs to work to please them, rather than resort to "bribing" them. I often wonder if these same people believe that being paid for their
work is a form of bribery...  

The funny thing is, dogs who've been taught using force based methods aren't working to "please their masters" any more than dogs who've been taught using reward-based
methods. And although there are some dogs that learn to work from this type of training, instead of learning to want to perform certain behaviors, they learn to do things, or to avoid
doing things, in order to avoid what they don’t want. And what they don’t want is for the person they love and should be able to trust beyond all others, to hurt them for their mistakes. I
call them mistakes because most of the time, when our dogs fail to do what we think they should, they aren't being naughty or stubborn or willful...they're simply making choices that
seem the most sensible to them. It's only a mistake because it runs counter to what we want them to do. It’s doubtful that there are many people who would choose to train their
dogs using coercive methods if they truly understood dogs and the way they learn, or grasped the potential negative impact that this type of training could have on their relationship.
Many would make different choices if they knew there was another, less punitive way to get the job done. As someone who once used "traditional," correction based methods to train
dogs myself, I know that I have.

If you understand how dogs learn and what truly motivates them (the things they value of course), then you don’t have to resort to using force to train them. The keys to training a dog
to reliability are: 1) find and use the types of rewards that best motivate your dog; 2) set your dog up for success, by starting out in a distraction free environment, and then increasing
difficulty in small enough increments to ensure a high probability of success; 3) work with your dog long enough, and with a high enough reinforcement history to turn the desired
behavior into a habit; and 4) learn to use the things your dog likes, not as bribery, but as a reward for a job well done. Use rewards (aka reinforcers) properly to motivate your dog,
and then phase out the constant use of them thoughtfully and gradually so you won't need to have treats or some other specific type of reward with you at all times in order to get
your dog to behave.  
...Oh yes, and I should probably add: 5) know that you will need to maintain your dog's reliable behavior by continuing to occasionally and strategically reward your dog for that
behavior throughout his lifetime.
 

Training your dog using reward based methods will not only leave you with a well-mannered dog, but also with a dog who is happy and willing to do the things you want him to do,
with confidence and enthusiasm. It will strengthen the relationship you share with your dog
, and give you a way to communicate with him/her that will be fun for both of you. It will
teach your dog to seek out those behaviors which you find pleasing, because he/she will know that you will shoulder the responsibility for effectively communicating those desirable
responses to him/her, and also that you will consistently and reliably acknowledge and show approval of those correct choices, in ways that will please your dog.  

And if you need some help, find a professional dog trainer, but remember to look for someone who can teach you to use positive reinforcement techniques in an effective way.

~K
Insights Into Training the "Perfect Dog"
Copyright © 2011 Kim Rinehardt. Ain't Misbehavin' K9
dog training, dog trainer, puppy training, puppy trainer
An article about dog / puppy training by Certified Professional Dog Trainer in Southern California
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