Dogs are being studied across all areas of health and behavior, making it possible to apply scientific insights to the way we train. As a result, new conversations are taking place among professional dog trainers at conferences and seminars. Here’s the lowdown on a few of these important discussions.
How can the six-week class be improved?
The six-week-class format was designed to be convenient for the owner’s schedule and budget: same place, same time, same price each week. Unfortunately, this model is proving to be insufficient, as many dog owners find themselves with unmet expectations at the end of the course. Day training (dropping the dog off for the day to be trained without the owner), smaller class sizes, online classes, private lessons and email check-ins are on the list of new options.
As to improving the class experience itself, we’re realizing that the common practice of allowing dogs to socialize for a few minutes before class can accidentally create unfocused and hyper adult dogs who pull toward every newcomer. Many trainers now believe that it’s better to save socializing for another time and place so that dogs and their people can practice improving skills and strengthening focus in class.
Should dog owners be taught management first and training second?
In dog training, “management” means to proactively arrange an environment or situation so that dogs do not have opportunities to do things we don’t want them to do. Trainers agree that owners who master the skill of managing their dogs’ behaviors can both avoid creating behavior problems and strengthen obedience training.
Because training new skills takes priority in class, many owners don’t realize how critical management is, or how easy it is for an unwanted behavior to become a behavior problem solely through mismanagement. Most of the time, solving a behavior problem consists of training an alternative that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior, as well as using management to prevent the unwanted behavior in the first place. For example, a dog who jumps up can be taught to sit when people come to the front door, but is always managed with a leash during training. While learning to practice a sit-stay is engaging and fun, a good obedience class will teach owners to spend equal time preventing long-term problems through management.
Are group puppy classes laying the foundation for calm and confident adult dogs?
The term “one-trial learning” describes a form of learning in which a brand-new experience is viewed by the dog as either positive or negative for the rest of the dog’s life. Since the negative effect of a single bad experience may never go away, owners need to be impeccable in choosing a puppy class. Classes that allow uncontrolled puppy play sessions can easily exacerbate the very issues owners want to reduce in their adult dogs, including fear, aggression, inattention and hyperactivity around other dogs.
Most of us want pet dogs who are social and polite. We want to raise confident puppies so that as adults, they do not have phobias or act aggressively. What we’ve learned from both experience and research is that raising a well-socialized dog depends on the quality of the experiences, not the quantity. A good puppy class should educate owners about the dangers of putting puppies into situations where they are easily aroused. Owners should feel free to opt out of having their puppy passed around by strangers or taking part in group play.
No good puppy classes nearby? No need to worry; people are fully capable of “home-schooling” their puppies when given accurate and in-depth information on socialization and management by a well-qualified trainer. A dog’s early learning experiences should be safe and fun, centering on repeated exposure to a variety of people, places and things. As an alternative to group puppy play, trainers can help owners find puppy-friendly adult dogs with whom to socialize.
Is it possible to train a puppy or adult dog to control bite pressure?