By Dianna Young
In my last two columns, I talked about the canine learning process. Dogs are not capable of deductive reasoning, and thus not very capable of figuring things out for themselves. Rather, they learn by experience and by repetition. In those columns, I talked about some of the things that can go wrong in the learning process and some of the mistakes a handler can make.
So, what about doing things right? How can you best take advantage of the way a dog’s brain works to impart training to him?
When we conduct training at our kennel, we usually work in sequences of four repetitions. Because of reasons known only to dogs, four repetitions seem to be just right. Fewer than four aren’t enough. More than four are too many.
For example, when we teach a dog to “sit,” we put his body in a seated position, show him the posture we expect, and demonstrate the verbal command that’s associated with it. Certainly, the dog already knows how to sit, but now he’s learning to sit for us at our request.
We put him in the seated posture four separate times, each time coinciding with the verbal command. We keep him in the sit for several seconds, if need be holding him there physically, and then we release him verbally and physically at the same time. We get him out of the sit by walking him out of it, give him a break of 30 to 45 seconds, then go into a second repetition of the sit. After the fourth repetition, we do something different with the dog, or do nothing with him at all. We will be through working on sits, however, for at least five or 10 minutes.
The thing that we do next has to be different, but it doesn’t have to be dramatically different. For example, if we’ve been working on heeling, we might work with the dog on four repetitions of right-hand turns. We can follow that with four repetitions of left-hand turns, or four repetitions of about-turns. After those, we can go back to doing four sits again.
Canines have relatively short attention spans, and a training session generally should go on no longer than 15 or 20 consecutive minutes. Also, we always want to end the session on a high note, when the dog is at the best of his best. More work is not necessarily better.
Typically, formal classes at our kennel last an hour and 15 minutes, during which we work with dogs and their owners together. We work the dogs hard for 10 or 12 minutes, then release them from their duties and provide advice to their owners for several minutes. After that we work the dogs for another 10 or 12 minutes, followed by more talk with their handlers, and continue that way through the entire session. In a typical hour-and-15-minute class we will focus on two different behaviors or activities to teach, four repetitions at a time.
We encourage all dog owners to take a basic obedience class with their dogs, and it doesn’t have to be here. The cost usually is nominal, and we consider it an investment in the 14-year-long relationship the people are going to have with their pet. Their dog can be a problem for 14 years or he can be a companion who brings real joy.
Remember: Great dogs aren’t born that way. They are created through training.
Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com. Or visit us at facebook.