Training your dog at home may be one of the most rewarding activities known to pet owners. Just seeing your pet respond to cues and commands can bring immense satisfaction, because you will see concrete results from all of your training efforts.
Pet owners who are just starting out with their training sessions will often encounter small problems that can directly impede the progress of the dog. If your dog is not responding to more classical training approaches, you may want to try clicker training. Clicker training (or operant conditioning), emphasizes the relationship between target actions and rewards.
Since the association between rewards and actions are continually reinforced during training sessions, dog trainers have minimal problems when teaching their dogs new tricks. Clicker training is so simple that it can even be done by a ten-year–old child.
There are two indispensable elements that must always be present during clicker training: the clicker, and the treats. Some people offer toys, and even verbal praise, as treats. But for the purpose of quickly getting your dog’s attention, I highly recommend that you find a tasty treat that your dog will not mind eating again and again.
Expert tips for trainers
If the dog is not following your commands, it is possible that the dog has yet to establish a solid connection between the command, and the action itself. Review the lesson and repeat the cycles to see if the dog is responding to the nonverbal cues.
If the nonverbal cues are not working, that means the dog has made no association between the action and any signal. Go back to square one, and repeat the association games. Use the clicker to mark the target behaviors during the action, and not after.
Verbal signals can be added to the training equation only when the dog has become an expert in responding to nonverbal commands. Nonverbal commands are easier to master than verbal commands (this is why some folks who use classical conditioning often have a difficult time teaching the simplest of actions).
Training sessions should not be drawn out and boring. Ten minutes is already a long session for an active dog who has never been trained before. During the first few sessions, limit your training timeframe to just three minutes. If the dog responds well to the clicker training, it can probably complete 20 successful cycles in three to five minutes.
Don’t be harsh with your pet if it does not immediately respond to your commands. Review the information signal (the cue), and check to see if the dog has made the association between the cue, and action itself. If the dog looks unmotivated, the problem may lie in the reward that you are offering. Change the reward and see if the dog will respond.
Punishment should be limited to a neutrally toned word such as “wrong”. Don’t scold your pet for not understanding. It doesn’t help the animal learn, and the animal may associate training sessions with being scolded. That is never a good thing for home-trained dogs.