Creating a Training Plan Template
On my third day of Clara's training sessions, Vangie started asking some questions in a rather accusatory fashion, such as what is my training plan, what is the projected goal, and how long will it take. I really wanted to remind her that she is the one that asked me for help, and I'm not charging a penny, and I never directly asked for snacks, but I think I should take the higher road here.
Digging up all the stuff I've learned with my training, I instantly have an answer, and that's to teach Clara the basic dog training commands; simple commands that I think all puppies should learn to do, so they can have a harmonious relationship with their owners. I explained what I wanted to happen, and how I'm going to work toward that goal.
- Teaching Your Dog To Make Eye Contact When Called
Some training articles and videos I watched don't cover this, but I think it's one of the foundations that smoothen the entire training process. I think some dogs learn this naturally, likely because they are social animals and I'm sure dogs who made consistent eye contact with their owners tend to be favored.
It's as simple as rewarding them with praise and a delicious treat for making eye contact when they are called. Reinforcing this means they will be used to shifting their attention to you when they hear their name, even when their attention is occupied. When they look at you, it should also be easier to command them.
Clara, Matty, and Maui already do this naturally, but I assume not all dogs will do this. At least when they do consistently make eye contact, basic dog training should be more efficient.
- Teaching Your Dog to Come to You
I also call this "Recall" and I think this is the most important. I think most dogs eventually learn this because they learn their name, and they associate that sound with us humans needing their presence or attention. This has to be properly reinforced because there will be times when they are distracted so much that they ignore when they are called.
If I could help it, I would both teach the dog to approach when they hear the proper verbal commands, or approach when they hear the collar beeping. I personally found the remote recall using the shock collar so darn useful that I'll teach it if I can help it, provided the owner is willing to own a long-range remote collar. It doesn't have to be a shock collar, just something that can beep or vibrate. There was nothing more awesome to me than being able to recall Maui from another street.
The training method is also very simple. If I'm going leashless, I would use a treat lure to get them to go to me, then mark that behavior with a click, then give the reward. If they don't respond to the supposedly alluring treat, I can do the leash method, which is to use a long leash. I'll get some distance away from the dog, call their attention, give the command, then pull on the leash. When they get close, I'll reward them with a treat.
- Teaching Your Dog to Sit and Stay
As valuable as getting your dog to go to you is, making them stay in one spot is just as valuable, even more so when they can stay there for long periods of time. I have seen some really obedient dogs just sit and chill when they were told to do so. It's also useful when you're trying to control your dog, like preventing them from jumping on other people.
I realized with Clara that this is easier with bigger dogs. Maui and Matty instantly sat when I moved their favorite treats up their heads, but Clara's tiny frame made it really easy for her to spin around, so I skipped this one and only trained her to stay. I'll teach her how to sit once I figure out how I can make this tiny dog sit down.
This is one training where you would really get a feel for "marking" a certain behavior. When I move the treat up their nose and they sit, as soon as their behind hits the floor, I say "Sit!" then give them a treat. With Maui, I did that method four times, then when I told Maui to "Sit!" he sat down, and I instantly rewarded it. From there it was easy to reinforce it. I taught Maui to "Stay" after this and it was much easier since he was already sitting.
- Teaching your Dog to Walk with a Loose Leash
Another very important thing dogs must learn is to not lead when they are walking outside. Maui would always lead back then, and not only does it make it unpleasant to walk with him, but it also strained my hand because he's a big dog and he can really pull. When he learned loose leash walking, walking with him became far, far more relaxing. Thanks to the retractable leash, I can allow him to do his usual sniffing and marking, which I think any pet owner should do every now and then. It also lessens their drive to lead when they think they have properly "patrolled" the area.
Provided we only use positive reinforcement in training, there are two paths to this, either one with a command such as "heel!" or simply rewarding the good behavior to eventually stomp out the bad behaviors like pulling and leading. I think this is done best when you're actually out walking where you would normally walk your dog, so they can get used to the usual distractions as well.
The command method is done in a rather straightforward manner, hold the dog leash close to you. Say the Heel command, then walk with them for a few steps, maybe 4-5 steps, then click (or say your good-job statement like "Good!") and keep doing this until you feel like you're not pulling them anymore, then increase the difficulty by turning around after the few steps, click, then reward. I would keep doing this until the dog stops pulling, then eventually loosen the leash, bit by bit.
The other version without the command I think is better since I'll be teaching the dog to do this all the time. It also involves Negative Punishment! That word seems strong, but I'll explain. Without telling your dog anything, just walk ahead of them. When they catch up, immediately click and reward. When they keep beside you after five steps, click and reward. When they lead, that's when you do your negative punishment, which is the cruel act of stopping. Yeah, it's negative because you took something away, which is the walk. It's punishment because you did it after the act was done.
When you stop walking, you can tug the leash a little to help them understand where to go, then when they go back to you, click and reward them. This is the process and depending on the dog, this will be done many times until it's common behavior for the dog to walk with a loose leash.
These are the basic commands I would teach a puppy, and what I intend to teach Clara. Matty's owner took over the training after picking up what I was doing. I explained to Vangie that these obedience commands are the key to controlling unwanted behavior. The training could last about two weeks since I will be reinforcing Clara unless Vangie is willing to take over the reinforcement process.
After some explaining, Vangie apparently thought that I was going to eventually charge money after the training is complete. I'm pretty sure I explained to her that I'm not a licensed pet trainer, just somebody practicing, but I leaned on the possibility that she forgot.
After clarifying a few things, I asked her if she was willing to take over the reinforcement part once I'm done actually teaching Clara. She refused, saying that she doesn't understand this bit and only wants Clara to be obedient. So far, Clara is learning to listen as that's one skill a dog will learn well during positive reinforcement training. If I am to become a dog trainer one day, I will deal with problematic clients just as much as problematic dogs. If anything, this is a perfect time to train me to deal with clients.
This made me think about my actual training process. I know three so far, which are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and shaping, which is like positive reinforcement but faster and with more mental stimulation. Shaping, I think, is more for advanced commands, and should be done on already well-trained dogs. I don't count model-rival right now because it's not always available, but it would be so cool if Maui can actually help me train other dogs. Technically, I use a clicker so it's clicker training too, but that's more of a tool than a process since you can just replace the clicker with anything else like a shock collar beep, or saying "yes!"
Thanks to that experience, I created an excel sheet of my training process is, and my strategies, and it prompted me to do further research into these training methods, even if it's just watching videos of other people training their own dogs. It also prompted me to look for anyone who could give me advanced dog training advice. There is one place, and I don't like it. Social Media. That will be for another time, I hope.
This is definitely a hobby now. I'm having a decent amount of fun with it, and it's all useful one way or another.