Dog training is like any other skill. It is not difficult if you know how to do it.
However, there are many topics that require any trainer to adapt to the situation. Your skill as a dog trainer does not simply encompass your ability to communicate and motivate your dog, but to understand other variables that are present during the training session and adjust your expectations based on other factors.
- Distractions present
- The current energy level of your dog
- How your dog is feeling (any injuries or soreness, is he hungry, thirsty, etc.)
- Is your dog nervous or frightened?
There are other possible factors, but these are the most common. Let’s look at each one individually.
It is important to practice new behaviors away from distractions, and then add distractions slowly. If you are teaching your dog to walk nicely on leash, each step away from your home is filled with new sights, sounds and smells to cause overload for your dog. If the behavior is not strong to begin with, it might quickly fall apart when you add distractions. To counter this problem, work on getting a behavior to be reall solid in your home, in your hallway, and in front of your house before you expect it to happen elsewhere. If it falls apart somewhere else, go back to home base and work on it more.
Current Energy Level
When I was training with Jean Donaldson in 2002, I worked with a black lab that was incredibly frustrating. I worked multiple sessions and got nowhere with this dog. He was distracted, disinterested, and I was at my wit’s end. I then tried running with him and throwing a ball for him for 30 minutes before each training session. After that, he was completely in tune with me. He was under-excercised and completely bouncing off the walls. Once I calmed him down and gave him his exercise fix, he was amazing and excelled at training. The more I worked with him, the less I needed to warm him up before each session, since training by itself became the outlet that he needed. Of course, I worked a lot of speed drills, recall and leash walking/running into every session.
Sometimes the opposite can be true. Once a dog gets tired, he can be completely done for the day. You have to look at your dog and see what works best. As your dog ages, his excercise needs will change as well.
How Is Your Dog Feeling
After a long romp at the beach, maybe your dog is sore the next day and in no mood to train. Maybe you had an agility competition over the weekend, and your dog tweaked a muscle. Maybe he is not feeling well after switching his food. Pay attention to the overall health of your dog and think about that when he seems distracted, disinterested or not performing up to your expectations.
Is Your Dog Nervous or Frightened?
This is one of the more common problems. A dog that is panic mode can’t learn anything productive except for the best escape route or how to move the scary thing away from him. If your dog is nervous, you have to pay attention to that, respect your dog’s fear and get him to a comfortable, safe location. You can’t expect a frightened dog to learn obedience.
I would love to hear what your experiences are with the above list, or if you have other topics that you have found important to pay attention to when training your dog.