Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Dog is Stubborn

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington, Columbia City and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the trainers are all graduates of Purdue University’s DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

“He is so stubborn” – trainers hear this statement on a daily basis. The truth is, dog’s do not have the same emotions that humans do, and stubbornness is a human response, not a dog reaction. They can, and often are, under-motivated. Why should he do what you have asked? Dogs are self-centered – what is in for the dog? No dog will follow cues “just to please you” – as many breeds may be described. They do it only because there is something rewarding in it for them. Sadly sometimes their reward is to escape punishment from their owner.

First and foremost, find what your dog likes and use them for motivation. Some dogs love squeaky toys, tennis balls, tug toys or any number of toys. Not all dogs like the same types of games and toys, so you must find what your dog likes and then use these items as motivators for learning. Such as coming when called.

All dogs like food, they must eat to stay alive, but not all food is created equal and not all dogs have the same food motivation. Some dogs enjoy their kibble; other dogs require a higher level of payoff (hotdogs, cheese, liver, tuna, etc.) to work well around distractions. Behavioral studies have proven dogs need a minimum of five different flavors to prevent habituation to the treat. This is no different than you eating your favorite food every day. It wouldn’t take long for it to lose its value. When your dog is outside and you call him, and he fails to come, he not being stubborn, he is just under-motivated. Think of your dog’s options when he is outside and hears your call. He can stay outside and keep barking at the neighbor’s dog, which is so much fun. Or he can come to you where you put him indoors with nothing to do. He is not being stubborn; he is weighing his options, which is more rewarding for him.

You can also use praise and petting as a reward, but know on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most rewarding) praise is rated a three. Most dogs don’t like to be hugged and kissed. If in doubt look in the mirror while hugging your dog to make sure he is enjoying it. Some dogs hate belly rubs – it makes them feel intimidated while others do enjoy it. Be sure the attention you use as a reward is actually something your dog enjoys, and not what you assume he enjoys. Most dogs hate to be patted on the top of the head, but that’s usually the first place people pet them. Find what your dog likes when it comes to petting, not what most humans would assume dogs like.

When using reward-based training it is important to pair the right reward for the right conditions. For example when coming to you from across the room, a good scratch on the neck may be all you need, but when coming to you from across a field, the reward will need to have a bigger payoff in order for the dog to be motivated enough to come when called. The reward must have a high enough payoff to give up all those distractions and come to you. You must be the best thing going to win your dog’s attention.

Reward based training instills in dogs there is always hope for great rewards when performing a cued behavior. When you produce a great reward as a surprise the dog comes to learn, sometimes he gets a fantastic reward and other times he gets a nice scratch on the neck.

Keep your dog guessing so he continues to try harder and harder for the big win. In the case of coming when called, it means your dog will come, when cued, in hopes of that big incentive!

Tip of the week: To learn more about reward based training, and finding out the types of rewards your dog may like best, find a positive reinforcement trainer in your area.

Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email  “Copyright 2010 by Susan Sharpe”

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