The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark & Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.
by Chelsea Pennington, Bark + Boarding Writer and Animal Enthusiast
Having a dog can be a fun and rewarding experience, but without proper training, any dog can be a handful. Taking your dog to a training class and reinforcing these lessons at home is a key part of making sure your dog stays safe and you both stay happy!
Not all types of training are created equal. Rather than using fear and domination to punish unwanted behaviors, training with positive reinforcement gives your dog positive motivation to repeat desired behaviors and results in a stronger bond based on trust between dog and owner.
Sometimes called reward-based training, this style focuses on rewarding behaviors you want your dog to have, like sitting and fetching, and ignoring and withholding rewards for unwanted behaviors, like jumping on people. Rewards typically take the form of a small treat, verbal praise or even a favorite toy.
There are several things to know about training with positive reinforcement. The first is that timing is key. The reward must occur immediately after the desired behavior, within a few seconds, or the dog won’t associate it with the behavior.
Second, keep your commands short and clear. Saying something like “Max, be a good boy and sit down for me” won’t make any sense to your dog. Instead, use one to two words commands like “stay” or “leave it.” Being consistent in what commands you use is also important.
Make sure everyone who will be frequently interacting with the dog, such as other family members or a dog walker, know which commands to use and to always reward good behavior while ignoring bad behavior.
When training your dog, don’t spend long stretches of time working on it. Spend ten to fifteen minute bursts working on a command, otherwise your dog will get bored or tired and not respond as well.
One of the most important things to realize about positive reinforcement is that it can happen accidentally — and not in a good way. If your dog barks at noises in the backyard and you always let him out, you’re training him that barking gives him a reward.
Even what you might consider negative attention can have unintended results. Yelling and pushing at your dog when she jumps up on you seems like a clear “no” to you, but she might still perceive it as attention, and therefore continue to do it.
Instead, don’t reward these behaviors. Ignore your dog barking, and when your dog jumps up, simply turn around and act as if they aren’t there. When they calm down and greet you in the way you want, then you can pet them and give them your attention as a reward.
Another important but often forgotten aspect of training is crate training. Sometimes dismissed as cruel, crate training your dog has numerous benefits for both you and your pet.
If your dog is trained to stay in a crate without being disruptive or destructive, it gives you peace of mind while away, makes it easier to house-train your dog, and ensures that your pet has a safe place to go when they need to be out of the way, such as when a repairman is needed or guests are over.
For your dog, having a crate means they have a safe den to retreat to when they’re feeling tired, scared or sick. It also allows them to still be a part of the family even when they can’t be out wandering the house.
Dogs are social animals, and so keeping them outside by themselves for long stretches of time will cause them stress and often result in unwanted behaviors such as digging, barking and chewing.
Crates also make traveling easier. A crated dog in a car has a much better chance at surviving a car crash, and having a familiar space even when staying in a hotel or elsewhere will help reduce anxiety your pet may have from traveling.
Properly training your dog can be a big task, and so attending a class with your new dog can be a great way to make sure they get the training they need while strengthening your bond as you learn together. Attending a class ensures that you aren’t making any mistakes without realizing it, provides accountability so that you stay consistent with your training and gives your new pup the opportunity to socialize with other dogs and humans.
Bark+ Boarding offers three levels of classes based on age and skill level so that whatever your dog needs, we can help. And of course, all our classes use positive reinforcement so dogs and their owners have the best experience possible.