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Basic Obedience Training For Dogs

The Denizens of our Home and Basic Training

Maui has been adapting well. The crate is due to arrive anytime now, but I think it's almost time to introduce all of the tenants of the house to Maui. Our daughter chimes in the office every now and then, ensuring that Maui both hears her and gets to smell her. At this point, Maui's probably as curious to meet her as she is, and I'm sure he will enjoy having another energetic companion to play with. 

However, outside the house is a different story. The last thing I want to happen is for Maui to have another traumatic experience with another smaller animal. I also don't want the cats to have a difficult experience with him. So I need to both leash Maui and teach him a few things to help control him. It's time to start training one of the basic commands: Sit.

The entire training is first split into two parts, Teaching, and Reinforcement. The first training sessions should be comprised of teaching Maui how to act when he hears a certain command. Once he does the correct behavior to some extent, the next training process is Reinforcement, where I increase the likelihood of Maui doing the correct action, especially when he's distracted. 

The first command to teach him to sit. When Maui gets a little rowdy, here's me hoping I can have him sit still for a few seconds and keep him from chasing the cats.

I need to do some preparations myself. Since I'll be using his favorite treats as a reward, I need to make sure he's not hungry, otherwise, he'll get frustrated if he can't get any treats. This means the training session should be done an hour after feeding time. 

I also have to remember my signals for good behavior and bad behavior. I'll say "Good!" in a happy voice when he does the correct thing, a firm "No!" when he doesn't. I've seen some training classes use clickers to signal the dog when they did a good thing, but I want to say those words, it just feels more personal that way. 

I cleaned the office and kept his toys away to minimize distractions. It's been an hour since he ate and he just did potty, so there shouldn't be anything that gets in our way, at least for a good fifteen minutes. I've read that training sessions should only be around that time, perhaps because any longer than that, I could risk wearing him out and create a negative impression about training in general.

Now, to make a dog sit, I have to hold the treat in my hand and place it near Maui's nose and move it over his head towards the direction of his tail. If done properly, Maui should raise his head to follow the treat and end up "sitting" while trying to follow it. As soon he "sits" I'll say "Sit!" or whichever simple commands I want for that behavior, then give him the treat. 

Maui sat on the second try. I had to keep the delicious treat inside my closed hand because he tried to snatch it from my hand the first time. As soon as his behind touched the ground, I said "Sit!" then gave him the treat and said "Good!" as I gave it. I did it about five times and took a small break to play with him. 

Another round and I noticed he kept sitting consistently as I moved my hand over his head. After another five successful tries, I changed the method a little. I held the treat in my hand but I only held it up and said "Sit!" As expected, it didn't work. All he did was look at me expectantly. It was probably too early, so I kept doing the same thing as before. Eventually, I noticed that he's not as interested anymore and kept looking out the door. It was about time we stopped anyway since it's time to introduce him to my daughter. 

Maui was already pretty aware of her but this will be the first time I let him get close. I called my daughter to the office and handed her his favorite chew toy. The idea was for her to let Maui approach and get the toy, in an attempt to let him play fetch, or what passes for it. 

It went smoothly. Maui was probably so bored of the training that seeing the toy immediately placed him on play mode and approached my daughter. They played "fetch" for a while and it looks like all the small interactions we did the last few days made the actual contact seamless. 

An hour after the second feeding time, I resumed the training. Armed with a different, but still irresistible bag of treats, I raised the treat so he could see it, then said "Sit!". After a second of doubt, Maui suddenly sat down. I was overjoyed and probably said "Good!" a little too loud as I tossed the treat at him. Perhaps all it took was some time to absorb the lesson. I walked around with the treat in hand to make him stand up and tried again a couple of times. There was some delay, but sure enough, he sat down when told to.

I realized that I just sauntered my way towards the "Reinforcement" part. I've apparently taught him how to sit already, and now I have to make sure he remembers to sit when he hears me say so. Reinforcement is probably the longest part of this training, I've read that it sometimes lasts a week or two, and even when you go through the whole thing, it's still not going to be 100%. It's still better than not having any control, and these are essential dog commands that could allow me to teach him more advanced commands next time.

What I've done so far is called positive reinforcement training or reward-based training. Literally giving him a reward for good behavior so he'll keep doing it again. I've also read about Negative Reinforcement, which is fundamentally different from "Punishment". Instead, it means I'll put any kind of negative stimuli called an "aversive" and remove that stimulus when Maui does the right thing. I don't have the tools for that yet, so for now, I have to remain positive.

We did the same reinforcement training the next day. A few hours after the training, I tried just asking Maui to sit without a treat. He did it once, but the next few tries were hit and miss. I wonder how many more training sessions it would take to make him do this more consistently?

That thought will have to wait. It's about time I familiarize Maui with the cats. I'm going to try first the scent swapping method. Maui probably knows the scents to some degree already, but I won't rush this. I had my daughter round up the cats and place them in the office while I let Maui stay in the master bedroom.

After about half an hour, we swapped. I took Maui into the office and my daughter placed the cats in the master bedroom.  Sure enough, Maui was suddenly a little cautious of his surroundings.  The cats, on the other hand, were indifferent inside the office and quickly took advantage of the comfort of the bed when they swapped. I guess that's good. I had to make sure Maui didn't show any aggressive behaviors like when he encountered one of the cats for the first time. Thankfully, all he did was sniff the floor and look around, albeit a little warily. 

I gave Maui plenty of praise and played with him. I had to keep the introduction process filled with as many positive experiences as possible. According to the process, this is as far as I should go for now, so I let the cats out back in the yard and let Maui enjoy the rest of the day in peace unless he wants to play, or I want to play, or my daughter wants to play.

 I was tempted to just let Maui and one of the cats stay in the room and let nature take its course, but I don't want to risk turning this into a bad situation that could cause more problems in the future. Dog ownership is a long process, as long as they live, that means everything must be done slowly and surely, in small periods of time.

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