Well, you’re not alone, in fact when I see dogs out in public, on leash, off leash or even in their homes, the majority of dogs will not follow basic cues such as sit, come or heel whenever they are even slightly distracted.
So what? You might say.
Well, for one a dog that ignores you when he or she is distracted or stimulated by something is going to do exactly as he or she pleases, and the chance of those coming out the way you want is slim.
Next is that you know that your dog will not listen to you so you start dragging your dog away from things he or she wants to do, by pulling your dog by the leash.
Know this is where most dogs become aggressive.
Teaching your dog to follow your guidance, cues, commands, gestures, direction, whatever you prefer to call it, helps your dog make good choices.
It helps your dog learn to: –
- Regulate their emotions
- Control their impulses
- Come when called, giving access to more off leash time
- Remain calm when appropriate
- Learn the behaviours that are socially acceptable and display them
- Avoid using aggression to resolve stress or frustration
- Avoid engaging in predation on small dogs, cats and wildlife
So, do people just NOT train their dog and this is what I see?
No, I believe the very high percentage of dog owners DO train their dogs. They are just not successful at getting the training to an effective level.
Why is this happening?
Well, I believe there are a number of reasons that stem from one problem, and that is that people just learn to accept their dog will not listen.
I think this comes from a place where, they have done some research and been swamped with information that is all about using positive reinforcement only. So, armed with tasty treats they start to train their dog, and in most cases see some results.
When you hold a piece of food over your dog’s head in your kitchen when no one but you and the dog are home, your dog sits. Success!
But when your dog see’s a guest coming into your home, a dog walking down the street, a ball thrown, he or she is gone!
This may have a lot to do with your dogs expectation of meeting and greeting other dogs and people, your dog may have only a low to moderate interest in food, or perhaps you need to do more repetitions, but either way, what creates progress is not accepting that your dog cant or won’t listen.
Should I stop training with food?
In most cases no, but here are some tips to make sure that your on the right track with food.
- In all cases it is very important to make sure you are not “training with food”, but reinforcing behaviours with food. This means you have to move past the stage where you show your dog the food to get your dog to respond and pull the food out after the behaviour has occurred.
2. Luring is fine short term but the longer it goes on, the more the food becomes the cue or part of the cue for the behaviour.
3. You can also reduce the amount of food your dog gets from a bowl and use more in training to reinforce behaviours you’re strengthening.
4. You can and should make sure that your dogs daily intake of food is correct and that your dog is not over fed or your dog may only be somewhat interested in your food rewards.
5. Your dog should win some food and lose some food in training. (+R and -P)
6. You should consider what food rewards mean to your dog. Does your dog get so overstimulated that he or she cant perform the behaviour? Many dogs are like this and if the goal is calm walking down the street for example, pulling food out may bring a level of emotion that is not helpful.
7. Your dog may eat the food but not find it “reinforcing”. If your dog finds no real value in the food your offering, reinforcement will not occur. IE: the exercise your working on will not get any better.
8. Will your dog ignore food when there is a distraction around like another dog or person? If so and you’re basically forcing your dog to eat the food, you will not get anywhere.
9. Some dogs have higher priorities than eating, accept that and respect it too.
If food is not going to work, how can I train my dog?
Dogs and puppies learn very well without a person dropping food on them at every turn, food can help us strengthen / reinforce behaviours so using food can form a solid part of the program. Read that again PART of the program.
Often if dogs that come to see me can’t improve, they will be put to sleep. Much of our work is behaviour modification and whilst some part of that is teaching and training functional skills we can use in rehab, we need to make sure that these skills are trained to a reliable level so that we can actually use them in rehab.
Many people find that using food only is fine until distraction shows up, but I find the most important time for training to work, is when distraction shows up. So that is the last time I want to see the dog fail the exercise.
When well meaning pet owners are told that any form of training other than handing over food is outdated, cruel, torturous etc. then dog owners often try and fail, concluding their dog just wont listen and cannot be trained.
People are coming to me with dogs that are aggressive and when they were working with the previous trainer, they told the trainer that their dog was not interested in food, the “professional” trainer said “get better food or get a better dog”.
Others come to see me and their dog is aggressive and will not touch food, they are told the dog needs to be medicated with Prozac.
Others have spent years waiting for the “magic food” to work and it hasn’t and given advice such as “ignore that bad behaviour and reward the good” is dangerous. Were you raised that way?
Solving a behaviour problem with your dog is going to involve some form of training. Training involves teaching the dog what the exercise is, Training or practicing the exercise with reinforcement until the dog is competent.
Testing and proofing the dog under distraction and then, and then only, these skills can be used to work problems out of your dog.
If you fail at the lowest level of distraction because your dog is not interested in food, imagine you have no hope of solving the behaviour problem.
Dogs need training and training happens when there are consequences.
First let’s understand that consequences arise, or should arise out of the dogs behaviour choices.
The behaviour choices should often come from the owners’ cues.
Consequences are not ONLY unpleasant, they can and should also be good.
A puppy walks up to an old cat and tries to play, the old cat hisses at the puppy and the puppy moves away. This is the cat applying positive punishment and negative reinforcement and the puppy learns that old cats are not to be played with.
I have not seen cats ignore getting pummeled by puppies then toss treats in the other direction when the puppy stops pummeling them.
Consequences help shape a dogs behaviour to avoid unpleasant consequences and attract pleasant consequences.
Puppies do this to each other, their mother does this to the litter, it is instinct and part of all animals basic function.
When we try and over ride these basic functions, we fail to be effective.
We all love our dogs…
So, we really want to buy into the “everything can be done with Positive Reinforcement” ideology, and there are many dogs that can be trained to exceptional standards this way, but we must respect our dogs are all different.
We must respect that dog owners can and should make choices for their dog which will provide a responsive dog that is both reliable and well behaved.
When we train our dogs, we are teaching them how to avoid problems, pressure, punishment and access reinforcement, reward and freedom.
All this over what method, tool, training aid or ideology you like or don’t like, the dog should come first and that means choosing the training that works for YOUR dog.
When training is effective, freedom is possible.
If that can all be done with food, GREAT, when it can’t the alternatives aren’t the torture, brutal or cruel techniques some try to tell you they are.
What IS cruel is to: –
Attack people for trying to train their dog, even if it isn’t your way
Tell people lies on how all dogs can be trained exclusively the same way
Steer people away from something or someone that can help them
Fail to get a dogs training reliable meaning the dog can never be let off leash
Do what works for you, your dog and let others make choices for their dogs…