Dog training

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Dog training: the process of teaching a dog (Canis lupus familiaris) to perform certain actions in response to certain commands which the dog is trained to understand. It is a general term which does not, by itself, describe what or how the dog is taught.

There are many methods and objectives of training. Dogs may be trained to:

As pack animals, wild dogs have natural instincts that favor cooperation with their fellow dogs. Many domestic dogs, either through instinct or breeding, can correctly interpret and respond to signals given by a human handler.


[edit] Basic training

Most dogs, no matter their eventual advanced training or intended purpose, live with people who want them to behave in a way that makes them pleasant to be around, keeps them safe, and provides for the safety of other people and pets. Dogs do not figure out basic obedience on their own; they must be trained.

The hardest part of training is communicating with the dog in a humane way that he understands. However, the underlying principle of all communication is simple: reward desired behavior while ignoring or correcting undesired behavior.

Basic pet obedience training usually consists of 6 behaviors:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Recall ("come", "here" or "in")
  • Close (or loose-leash walking)
  • Heel

"Corrections" should never include harmful physical force or violence. Using force while training is controversial and should not be taken lightly, because even if it ends the behavior, when applied inappropriately with some dogs it may lead to a loss of drive (enthusiasm for the given task), stress, and in some cases even aggression. A handler may decide to use force, however the standard used by most trainers is the minimum amount necessary to inhibit the unwanted behavior.

[edit] Puppies and learning

The prenatal period is a recently recognized developmental period of puppies. It is thought that "long-term effects on behavioral development may also be produced in some mammals by events occurring in utero". (Serpell, 1995, p. 80) Previous studies tended to overlook the existence of this period, since the puppy’s behavior could not be observed. With the development of the ultrasound machine, a puppy can now be observed within the mother as early as the fourth week of gestation.

It was found that puppy fetuses would react to touch and/or pressure from the outside of the mother’s abdomen. In addition, it is theorized that since puppies have such a well-developed sense of touch at birth, the sense of touch would also be well-developed before birth. Studies have found that "when a pregnant animal is petted her litter is more docile", (Denenberg and Whimbey 1963, in Fox 1978) According to Fox, this facilitates relaxation, emotional attachment, and socialization. Other studies have indicated that puppies that receive outside contact (petting of the mother) while in utero have a higher tolerance for touching than puppies that receive no contact at all. One could theorize that gentle petting of the mother’s abdomen could help to facilitate positive, beneficial puppy socialization with people.

During the first two weeks of a puppy's life, also known as the neonate period, puppies can learn simple associations. (Serpell, 1995) However, early experience events are unlikely to carry over into later periods. Studies indicate that puppies in the neonate period do not seem to learn by experience. (Scott and Fuller, 1965) It is theorized that this is due to the fact that the puppy’s brain, sense, and motor organs are still undeveloped. Based on its limited capacity to sense and learn it would be difficult to affect the puppy psychologically, either in a positive or negative sense. (Scott and Fuller, 1965)

The next period of development is known as the socialization period. This period begins around 3 weeks old and ends around 12 weeks old. (Beaver, 1999) The main aspect of this period is social play. Social investigation, playful fighting and playful sexual behavior is very important to developing social relationships during its life. (Scott and Fuller, 1965) New behavior patterns are directly influenced by the puppy’s interaction with its mother and other puppies in the litter.

During this period puppies develop social relationships, with other puppies as well as with people. However, there is a point at which the puppies can develop a fear of strangers. At 3-5 weeks of age, puppies will actively approach strangers. Shortly thereafter stranger avoidance begins and slowly escalates until it peaks around 12-14 weeks of age. (Beaver, 1999) While this natural fear of strangers could serve as a way to keep a curious puppy away from predators, it can also hinder normal relationships with people.

During this period, startle reactions to sudden movement and sounds develop. This serves to help the puppy learn to differentiate between dangerous and safe or insignificant events.(Scott and Fuller, 1965) During the socialization period, the development of attachment to certain locations occurs. This is displayed by an extreme disturbance in the puppy whenever a change in location occurs. This is known as localization. (Serpell, 1995) Localization often peaks in puppies between 6-7 weeks old (Scott and Fuller, 1965), and then tapers off after that time until a change in location is no longer distressing to the puppy.

Dogs that are handled and petted by humans regularly during the first eight weeks of life are generally much more amenable to being trained and living in human households. Ideally, puppies should be placed in their permanent homes between about 8 and 10 weeks of age. In some places it is against the law to take puppies away from their mothers before the age of 8 weeks. Puppies are innately more fearful of new things during the period from 10 to 12 weeks, which makes it harder for them to adapt to a new home.[citation needed]

Puppies can begin learning tricks and commands as early as 8 weeks of age; the only limitations are stamina, concentration, and physical coordination.(Beaver, 1999; Lindsay, 2000; Scott and Fuller 1965; Serpell 1995)

[edit] Basic training classes

Professional "dog trainers" train the dog's guardian to train his dog. To be most effective, the guardian must use and reinforce the techniques taught to the dog. Guardians and dogs who attend class together have an opportunity to learn more about each other and how to work together under a trainer's guidance. Training is most effective if all those who handle the dog take part in the training to ensure consistent commands, methods, and enforcement. Classes also help socialize a dog to other people and dogs. Training classes are offered by many kennels, pet stores, and independent trainers.

Group classes may not be available until the puppy has completed all of its vaccinations around 4 months of age; however, some trainers offer puppy socialization classes in which puppies can enroll immediately after being placed in their permanent homes as long as disease risk is minimal and puppies have received initial vaccinations. In most cases, basic training classes accept only puppies who are at least 3 to 6 months old. It is however recommended to start training as soon as the puppy comes into your home. Puppies may also be trained individually by the trainer visiting the dog's home beginning as early as 8 weeks.

A puppy requires discipline, consistency, and the patience of its owner. The puppy training phase is integral in raising a healthy and happy dog and keeping a safe and fun home environment.

Dogs are expressive and may communicate needs by biting, whining, and getting fidgety. Changing one's own conduct may be effective in changing a puppy's behavior.

House training is an important issue for puppies. Various methods of house training will work although the key is to be consistent. With regularly enforced rules, litter box, crate, or paper training can be successful.

[edit] Communication

Fundamentally, dog training is about communication. From the human perspective, the handler is communicating to the dog what behaviors are correct, desired, or preferred in what circumstances and what behaviours are undesirable.

A handler must understand communication from the dog. The dog can signal that he is unsure, confused, nervous, happy, excited, and so on. The emotional state of the dog is an important consideration in directing the training, as a dog that is stressed or distracted will not learn efficiently.

According to Learning Theory there are four important messages that the handler can send the dog:

Reward or release marker
Correct behavior. You have earned a reward.
Keep going signal
Correct behavior. Continue and you will earn a reward.
No reward marker
Incorrect behavior. Try something else.
Punishment marker
Incorrect behavior. You have earned punishment.

Using consistent signals or words for these messages enables the dog to understand them more quickly.

It is important to note that the dog's reward is not the same as the reward marker. The reward marker is a signal that tells the dog that he has earned the reward. Rewards can be praise, treats, play, or anything that the dog finds rewarding. Failure to reward after the reward marker diminishes the value of the reward marker and makes training more difficult.

These messages may be communicated verbally or with nonverbal signals. Mechanical clickers are frequently used as a reward marker. Hand signals and body language also play an important part in learning for dogs. The meanings of the four signals are taught to the dog through repetition, so that he may form an association by classical conditioning so that the dog associates the punishment marker with the punishment itself.

Dogs do not generalize commands easily. A command which may work indoors might be confusing out-of-doors or in a different situation. The command will need to be re-taught in each new situation. This is sometimes called "cross-contextualization," meaning the dog has to apply what's been learned to many different contexts.

[edit] Reward and punishment

Most training revolves around establishing consequences for the dog’s behavior. Operant conditioning defines these following four types of consequences.

  1. Positive reinforcement adds something to the situation to increase the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again.
  2. Negative reinforcement removes something from the situation to increase the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again.
  3. Positive punishment adds something to the situation to decrease the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again.
  4. Negative punishment removes something from the situation to decrease the chance of the behaviour being exhibited again.

Most trainers claim that they use "positive training methods ". Generally, this means using reward-based training to increase good behavior rather than physical punishment to decrease bad behavior.

[edit] Rewards

Positive reinforcers can be anything that the dog finds rewarding - special food treats, the chance to play with a tug toy, social interaction with other dogs, or the owner's attention. The more rewarding a dog finds a particular reinforcer, the more work he will be prepared to do in order to obtain the reinforcer. Just being happy about a dog's accomplishment is a reward to them.

Some trainers go through a process of teaching a puppy to strongly desire a particular toy, in order to make the toy a more powerful positive reinforcer for good behaviour. This process is called "building prey drive", and is commonly used in the training of Narcotics Detection and Police Service dogs. The goal is to produce a dog who will work independently for long periods of time, in the hopes of earning access to its special toy reward.

Traditional forms of punishment is least used by modern dog trainers. A dog is generally only given this type of punishment if it is willfully disobeying the owner and owner needs to guard the dog's safety in a serious situation. Punishment is effectively paired with teaching the dog desired behaviors, but is not a single solution, as it will make the dog fearful or unwilling to cooperate if it is not taught desired behaviors.

Punishments should only be administered as appropriate for the dog's personality, age, experience and physical and emotional condition. Some dogs may show signs of fear or anxiety with harsh verbal corrections. Other dogs with may ignore a verbal reprimand. Other dogs develop an aversion or fear of water, when water is sprayed at them as an aversive.

It is highly recommended that punishment only be used under the guidance of a professional if unwanted behavior must be corrected immediately.

[edit] Training tricks

Many dog owners teach their dogs tricks. This serves several purposes: it develops a stronger relationship between the dog and human, it provides entertainment, and it engages the dog's mind, which can help to alleviate problems caused by boredom.

[edit] Collars and harnesses

Choke Collar: The choke collar is a length of metal-link chain with a large circular ring on either end. The chain is slid through one of these rings and it is slid over the dog's head. When the dog displays an undesirable behavior the collar is tightened. This is primarily used in traditional dog training.

Prong (or Pinch) Collar: The prong collar is made of metal links that fit together by connecting through long teeth that point inward toward the dog’s neck. A section of this collar is made of a loop of chain links that tighten the collar when pulled, pinching the dog's neck. The use of these collars is controversial and is opposed by animal rights groups such as PETA. This collar is mainly used in traditional dog training.

Radio-controlled Collars: These consist of a radio receiver attached to the collar and a transmitter that the trainer holds. When triggered, the collar delivers an aversive. The specific aversives vary with different makes of collars. Some emit sounds, some vibrate, some release citronella or other aerosol sprays, some apply electrical stimulation. A few collars incorporate several of these. Of these, electrical stimulation is the most common and the most widely used. Early electrical collars provided only a single, high-level shock and were useful only to punish undesirable behavior.(Lindsay, 2005, p.583) Modern electrical collars are adjustable, allowing the trainer to match the stimulation level to the dog's sensitivity and temperament. They deliver a consistent and measured level of aversive stimulation that produces significant discomfort and startle without risk of producing permanent physical injury.(Lindsay, 2005, p.584) These collars are inappropriate for use as the initial or primary means for establishing basic obedience control.(Lindsay, 2005, 586)

Martingale Collar: The martingale collar is a collar that has only a section on it that will tighten when pulled. This is different from the choke collar that will tighten indefinitely.

Head Collar: The head collar is very similar to a halter on a horse. The theory it is that if you have control of the head, you have control of the body. The head collar generally consists of two loops. One loop goes behind the ears and the other goes over the dog's nose and they meet somewhere below the dog's jaw. This tool makes it more difficult for the dog to pull on his leash. This tool is usually employed during positive reinforcement training.

No Pull Harness: The no-pull harness is worn on the body of the animal. The no-pull harness differs significantly from the standard harness since it makes it harder for the dog to pull because it distributes energy over the dog’s back and shoulders. The no-pull harness restricts the movement of the dog’s body when the dog pulls. Like the head collar, the no pull harness does not teach the dog not to pull; it only makes it harder for the dog to pull.

[edit] Teething

Between three to six months of age, a puppy begins to get its adult teeth. This period can be quite painful and many owners do not recognize the natural need to chew. By providing specific chew toys designed to ease the pain of teething (such as a frozen nylon bone), attention can be diverted from table legs and other furniture. Many people also use a bad-tasting, bad-smelling spray on favorite items, such as shoes, furniture, or even wallpaper, to discourage chewing. Bitter apple is a commonly used spray, but there are several commercial sprays available. Different sprays work better for different applications, owners, or puppies.

[edit] Specialized training

Dogs are also trained for specific purposes, including:

[edit] Guard animals

Due to their natural social structure — which is territorial and protective of companions —companion animals may exhibit some form of alert behaviors toward intruders. However guard dogs and police dogs are not simultaneously intended to be companion animals.

Guard dogs are defined as canines who either by training, or by instinct, protect either property, persons or objects.[citation needed] A well-trained guard dog protects person, property or objects on command and "turns-off" on command as well.

Several methods to train guard animals include the western (e.g. Koehler Method) and eastern methods. The Schutzhund method also addresses protection, and generally means the animal will bite on command, and will not release until commanded.

In some circumstances, when dogs are left alone to guard property it may be necessary to train them to not eat treats or other food items offered by unknown persons.

[edit] Service animals

Assistance dogs, such as guide and hearing dogs, are carefully trained to utilize both their sensory skills and the protective instincts of dogs to bond with a human to help that person to offset a disability in daily life. The use of assistance dogs is an ever-growing field, with wide a range of special adaptations.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Beaver, Bonnie V. (1999). Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA
  • Lindsay, Steven R. (2000). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 1: Adaptation and Learning. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA.
  • Scott, John P. and Fuller, John L. (1965). Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • Serpell, James A. (1995). The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
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