Preparing The Dog For Training
Please note I have no professional training experience and advocate a reward principle. Use at your own risk. Every dog is unique and some may require special handling.
If you have a puppy then you can probably start training immediately. If you have an older dog or a large dog that you want to train using my techniques then you may want to do some pre-work with the dog.
One problem with an older dog that has been fed in large sessions is that the dog will want to "wolf down" it's food. My training techniques and many others are based on a reward principle. I prefer to reward the dog using regular dog food (hand fed) and praise. This generally is no problem, except when you have a large or new dog that may take your hand off by accident!
A solution that I found to this problem is to feed the dog only a few pellets at a time, dropping between one and three in his pan. It may take between 10 and 30 minutes to feed about a cup. You can also try to hide the pellets where the dog will have to use his nose more in finding them. The dog should learn not to "wolf down" his food after a few sessions. Of course, we are talking about larger dogs here so you will spend quite a bit of time feeding your dog each day until they will eat correctly from your hand. Also, the dog will eventually become bored, so you should break it up into several sessions a day.
Note too, that if you mostly feed your dog from your hand (as I do) then it may have a positive or negative effect, depending on how you consider it. However, the dog will be less inclined to eat on other surfaces or from food bowls so you will generally have to continue doing it. Unlike some training techniques, though, this will not be absolute, so you should not be too concerned. If the dog already knows a command such as sit, then this can be reinforced while you are "feeding" the dog. While I'm not recommending this for dogs with behavior problems, it could well start to solve the problems but if the dog does not respect you, then you should be extra careful.
Another effect this may have is that your dog should stop begging or trying to eat your food! I know this sounds contradictory but by learning that he will have to work for food then he will not expect "hand outs". And if he does, he will sit or do some other trick that he thinks you might want him to do.
Another essential component in preparing a dog for his training that may not be part of the formal training process is socialization. This involves daily grooming and petting of your dog. For timid or shy dogs, this is highly important. For most dogs 10 to 30 minutes of grooming and petting should be enough, but you can do more if you wish. A shy dog may have to work up to that amount of time. You want to stress the dog but only enough where the dog will be more confident the next time. Even if the dog does not start to enjoy daily grooming/petting then they will be more likely to tolerate someone petting them and less likely to perceive them as a threat. For dominant dogs, it is also of great value. By restraining the dog in a non-threatening manner for an extended amount of time, you are demonstrating that you love the dog and that the dog is submissive to you.
The next step in socializing the dog is to get other people to pet the dog. This can be a bit harder, because you have to find several people who will pet your dog. You can do this on or off leash, if your unsure of your dog's reaction, then I suggest using a short leash. First, do not allow a person to approach your dog if they are growling, if they are barking proceed with caution. The person should be informed as to what you are doing (socializing a shy or dominant dog) and your dog's nature.
There are two ways to proceed from here and I will suggest what I think is the most logical. Tell the person to stand fairly still but not very still and be relaxed. Allow the dog to approach them first, after the dog has approached them and "inspected" them, place the dog in a seated position. Now permit the person to pet them, first the side of the head and under the head. The person should not make any quick or startling movements. If the dog is taking it well, allow the dog to be rubbed on the head. And end the session. This sequence will need to be repeated several times with various people. The rate at which you do this (several times in one short session, a few times a week) will be dependent on your dogs ability to handle the additional stress and logistics of the volunteer.
Be careful in choosing your volunteer so that they understand the risk involved and will act responsibly. This can not be stressed enough because there are quite a few fools in this world. If you are unsure of a person's ability to do this then I suggest you find someone else. Ethnic, sex, and age differences are advisable but rarely possible.
I have read that some dog clubs have socialization "classes" where dogs and people can interact, this may be your best bet. I have also read that food can be used as a socialization aid. This is probably true but I suggest doing this without food to begin with because if your dog is dominant or shy and thinks that a stranger will have a treat then it can cause even more problems. But with care and as an additional aide you may want to consider using food.
A dog should be exposed to as many safe environments as possible. It is best to start exposing dogs to new environments as early as possible but most dogs will still benefit from it, especially if there is a need.
A dog may not have been exposed to a variety of environments because of improper care, inability, and lack of function. Generally dogs with environment problems are dogs that have been kept in a kennel/lot, tied, improperly confided in a crate, but can also include outside pets.
Environments to consider are the house (including different floor types, stairs, rooms, etc), urban areas (walking on leash), wilderness areas (including creeks, rivers, etc), and vehicles.
Non Formal Auto Training
Auto training is just what it sounds like, it consist of rewarding the dog for doing things on his own. As an example, a dog starts to sit and you command "sit" and reward the dog immediately.
This is a very useful tool for formal training but can also be used as a non formal training tool. In other words, you should make it a habit to inform your dog what it is doing. It is good to talk to your dog but this is an additional method of casual conversation.
Here is an example, Rover sit, Rover down, Rover TV, Rover roll over, Rover speak/talk, Rover eat, Rover back up, Rover play, Rover silly, etc. Each of these may possibly be followed by good boy or good dog. I consider it different then formal training because you do not pursue compliance with each command but rather in the hopes that the dog will begin to understand you better. As such, you do not even need to use a formal command, you may use one word one time and another the next.
Punishment and Problems
I try to make it a habit to never punish my dog and it should be your habit too. I mainly advocate rewarding the dog but I also advocate compliance from a dog. What this means is that you do not punish a dog but rather you force the dog to comply with you and in a few very rare cases punish the behavior of the dog.
Before we get into how this works, we must look at the problem of a dog's owner and what constitutes a problem. A dog can be expected to do certain things. Most all dogs can be expected to dig (in fact some are bred to dig), chase things, eliminate themselves, bark, and greet you. A dog cannot be expected to comply with an owner who is not reasonable and does not spend positive time with the dog.
Many problems start with their owners, for one reason or another. I will not go into a list of problems and "fix its" because each dog is unique and each dog's problems are unique, but I will provide some possibly helpful comments.
First, look and see if there is any reasonable way to eliminate the behavior without training the dog. If the dog gets into your trash, it may be easier to keep the trash inside in a locked or non-accessible place until the trash can be removed.
If a dog jumps on you every time you meet him then their are several options. If a dog is tied then you can not do anything but expect this type of behavior. If in the past you have greeted the dog after jumping on you, then you have in effect, reinforced it. There are several actions you can take to eliminate this problem, if you do consider it to be a problem even. You may want to try to make it a trick where that the dog walks around. Other solutions include using a chain as a deterrent, gently kneeing the dog, moving away from the dog, or allowing the dog to balance on your hands.
I will briefly discuss punishment, how to administer it and the problems it creates or solves. Punishment's main flaw is that it allows for a behavior or action to take place when the action should never have taken place.
First, a short diversion on shock collars. Shock collars are usually used out of desperation from an owner who feels that there is no other way to correct a behavior. Generally, most owners feel that shocking is not desirable but that it is a last resort and will "cure" the problem. Other people have resorted to using shock collars as a "cure all". These people have generally failed to really think out the problem and possible solutions. Shock collars in my opinion should be banned or at least require secure regulation. For a last thought on shock collars, let us consider a hypothetical experiment conducted on some unwitting human subjects. The problem behavior is running in the house. Each subject will be issued a shock in his or her neck on the upper right side. Now let us consider how certain subjects react. Our first subject only runs on some days during the mornings when he is in a hurry for work. This subject was turning off a light when he started to run. He attributes the shock to bad wiring. Another subject considered the shock to possibly a knee or back injury. And yet another person could not determine why he was shocked and shortly forgot about it. But I seriously doubt any person would learn to avoid running in the house in a week or even two. Would you? And I was assuming that in every instance the shock would be administered, if a real person was shocking there would be some instances which he would miss.
Punishment can administered with a standard leash and collar (a choker is not necessary). The punishment must be administered the exact time when the problem occurs, not a second later. The punishment must occur at a frequency high enough to justify reduction of the behaviors. Punishment should not be the standard for training because punishment rarely eliminates problems, is hard to administer every time, and can easily create more problems. Now let us consider an alternative to punishment that will work for many, if not most problems -- Compliance. Compliance is better then punishment in almost every way.
One of the most useful commands for problem behaviors is "that's mine" or "mine". Okay the problem is your dog bothers your cat. A punishment approach to the problem may permit the dog to chase the cat and then, as soon as he starts, apply a leash correction. This could work. But it would have been better to have never allowed your dog to chase the cat in the first place. If you want your dog to sit, a punishment approach would involve punishing the dog for not sitting (leash correction). For most pets making the dog comply with sitting would be a better alternative. In other words, you want the dog to sit, sit the dog. Many owners and first time trainers get caught up with getting the dog to listen and not with what the dog is doing. If your making the dog comply then the dog is under control, whether you are doing it by voice or direct compliance. When the dog learns that you are always in control then problems will quickly level out.
The "that's mine" command is very useful for most anything the dog bothers (cats, trash, clothes, books, almost anything). To train the "that's mine" command you have to position yourself between the object and the dog and block the dog from getting to the object. This differs from punishment in that the dog is not openly permitted to perform an action that will result in punishment, rather you are keeping the dog away to begin with. If the dog gets too close, gently "block" the dog from getting closer using a palm out hand. This makes more sense to the dog then punishment, because being the dominant figure, it is your right to posses objects. Also in most cases if the dog observes you guarding the object, the dog will think it is also suppose to guard the object. When you do this with several objects you will merely need to issue the "that's mine" command. The benefits of this 'blocking method' over traditional punishment are quite numerous. For one, the pressure never goes up. It can be very mild, in fact, nearly gentle (in traditional punishment the level is much harsher and generally has to increase over time). The dog will be more likely to comply when you are away for several reasons - it is your object but also it is their job to guard the object and not disturb it, and there are other benefits for sure.
So to sum up on dog problems: (1) determine if there is a problem and what that problem is, (2) decide if the problem can be eliminated without involving the dog, (3) think about how to get your dog to comply, and lastly, (4) make your dog comply. Punishment will be a true rarity when you begin to think in these terms.
Training (the Real Stuff)
I will discuss the basics of the training I do. My training method is based on reward (the reward I use is food and praise), and compliance. The first objective in training an obedience command or trick is to get the dog to perform the action on his own. This can be auto training or creative positioning using food or an external object. When the dog does the desired action quickly give a good boy, pat on the head, and food.
In a complicated trick when the dog shows interest in the desired action give the reward. When the dog has learned the command and does not listen, make it comply (ex. place the dog in a seated or down position). When teaching a new command give praise and food every time but gradually and randomly start giving less food. In addition to random changes also start to critique the dog more, no longer reward the times the dog is slow, only reward the best. If you can not figure out a method to get the dog to do something on his own then assist the dog (action, reward, action, reward). As time progresses the dog should be expected to do more and more of the trick on his own, until finally the dog does the entire action without assistance.
I will save the specifics of training each command/trick for future articles. I hope this has given you enough information to get started, I wish you and your dog happy training.