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Some Key Canine Education and Training Concepts

* Assume the role of the alpha, the pack leader, in your relationship. Act like a benevolent leader and you will earn your dog’s respect and trust. Help your dog realize he can respect and trust you. To do this, become knowledgeable about dog behavior and training, so that you can honestly project confidence and certainty.

* Realize what educating your dog involves. It’s more than training him to sit, stay and obey other commands. Indeed, these specific training commands are essential. But as the dog’s leader, you must also educate your dog to help him develop good house manners and good behavior.

* Set the ground rules early, and stick to them. Make sure they are reasonable and humane. You can loosen up later if you wish, but tightening up is difficult after your dog’s behavior gets out of control.

It’s essential that all household members understand and stick with the same house/dog management rules. Discuss the rules in advance of getting a dog, and review them frequently after the dog joins your family. Furthermore, let visitors know the rules as well, so that they don’t undermine your efforts to educate and train your dog.

* Teach your dog good house manners from the start. For the first few days, keep the dog in the same room with you as much as possible. That way, you’ll know immediately if the dog needs to relieve himself and you can take him outside. And if he engages in inappropriate behavior, you’ll be able to instantly correct him.

* Teach your dog to make eye contact from day one. Trainers often stress that this should be the first lesson. Teach your dog to become alert to your voice, and to respond to his name by looking at you.

* Praise, don’t punish. This is key to modern-day training and all approaches to positive reinforcement.

* Positive reinforcement involves giving your dog something he or she enjoys immediately after the dog engages in a desired behavior, or after the dog ceases an undesired behavior. The “something” can be praise, a food treat, a favorite toy, positive attention, a play session, a click of a clicker – anything the dog perceives as a reward. The reason: dogs, like people, tend to repeat rewarded behaviors and tend to drop behaviors that do not result in a rewarding outcome. Reward is a super-powerful tool for shaping or modifying a dog’s behavior.

* Timing is vital. The reward should immediately follow the dog’s positive behavior, so that she makes the connection between “good behavior, good result.” If you tell your dog to sit, and she sits, reward at once, not after she lifts her butt off the floor. A dog who’s learning to lie down should be praised as soon as she begins to lie down. A pup learning the “leave it” command should get praised the instant she restrains herself from going after the thing that tempts her. Treat these signs of progress as significant accomplishments!

If you’re using leash corrections, timing applies as well. It’s ineffective and unkind to give a correction more than a few seconds after the dog disobeys. Dogs don’t have long-enough memories to make the connection between a prior action and a correction. So your dog will probably not understand what he did “wrong,” and only think that his person is displeased.

* Consistency. Teach the dog clear, simple, concise commands to connote the specific responses you expect from her. Stick with those words. Otherwise, you’ll confuse the dog. All household members need to do likewise.

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