Teaching your dog the step by step process of doing a particular behavior such as sit is actually the easy part of dog training. Things get complicated when you start thinking about what to do if your dog isn’t getting it, gets it but chooses not to comply with your request, does something else instead, sits beautifully when asked but also chews up your stuff or barks incessantly while doing so and so on and so forth.
The complicated part of dog training isn’t so much the actually training as knowing what to train when, what to do when it’s not working as expected, how to know what the dog is trying to tell you, understanding what the client wants or explaining to the client that they can’t have what they want (“no, it’s definitely not a good idea to throw a huge welcome home party with all your friends and their dogs and kids for your adopted dog the afternoon you bring her home”).
The complicated part is figuring out if a dog’s “sudden” change in behavior is due to illness, injury, experience or something else or convincing a human guardian that a dog isn’t being rude, belligerent or disrespectful by performing a certain behavior.
Luckily for me, I was a teacher in a previous life and taught toddlers to seniors at various points so working with my human clients is as much fun for me as working with my canine clients. I also remember how truly ignorant I was on dog communication, thinking and behavior when I first got Jake so I know the feeling and can relate to clients which really helps with messaging.
That’s my lead in to the 3 C’s of Dog Training which are things you must consider and embrace before you even get to the step by step process of teaching a behavior to a dog.
The Three C’s are:
Why these three? Because to a significant degree, dog training is a mental game. Just as we talk about dogs having temperament traits (some being more desirable than others), you need to adopt the right temperament, or mindset, to effectively work with dogs and their guardians so that learning and behavior change can happen.
Committing (hmmm…perhaps a 4th C) to the Three C’s of Dog Training will get you there.
The first “C” is Consistency
You need to be consistent when dog training.
- Consistent with the language you use to make behavior requests of your dog
- Consistent with the timing of treat delivery so your dog understands what the treat is for
- Consistent with your energy so you are not over-arousing your dog or scaring her with a shout
- Consistent with making time to practice your dog’s new behaviors
- Consistent with the rules you make for your dog so she isn’t constantly wondering what’s expected
- Consistent with all of the above among all members of the family
The second “C” is Communication
- You need to be consistent (1st C) with how you communicate with your dog which means use the same language to mean the same thing all of the time
- You need to clearly communicate what you want your dog to do whether that’s a new behavior or a redirect when your dog is doing something you don’t want (just saying no, no, no, to infinity isn’t communication, it’s just noise)
The third “C” is Compassion
- Have compassion for yourself because raising a dog is work and doesn’t always go smoothly
- Have compassion when you screw up and raise your voice, we’ve all been there
- Have compassion for your dog when she doesn’t get it, not all dogs learn at the same pace
- Have compassion for both you and your dog when you are tired and frustrated with training and want to give up but know that won’t help. This is the moment you need to take a break and try again tomorrow (or bring in a professional!)
Here’s a Bonus C which is the word Cue
Using the word cue to refer to behavior requests you make of your dog is preferable to using the word command (yes, it’s a C but not one we want to use) shifts the energy of your ask to one of cooperation rather than one of dictation. That’s important because your dog isn’t a thing, a computer that you tell what to do. Your dog is a living breathing sentient creature who has the right to choose to comply with your requests, or not.
If you follow the three C’s of consistency, communication and compassion, you and your dog will develop a deep and beautiful loving bond which will make her want to comply with your requests as, indeed, you comply with hers when she wants to go outside or have a snuggle.