Introduction to Training Your Dog

by Koos van den Heever

Because of the intelligence the dog has, people have been able to train dogs to fulfil a variety of functions:  as a guard of their home or property, a hunter hunting with his master, a herder for livestock, a guide for the blind, a feet warmer, a sleigh or cart puller, or even a moneyspinner or key to fame - the list can go on.

However for dogs to live among humans, it is essential that they be taught obedience and be trained to a suitable standard.  Not doing so will lead to dogs biting, causing road accidents, killing of other animals or even humans or even the spread of disease.  Children that get bitten may be scarred for life, physically and especially emotionally. 

Training your dog should not be difficult.  For one thing dog training clubs are run in many major towns and cities, and for a fee you can enrol for a suitable course.  See it as sending your baby to school :)  Ultimately you may be able to enter competitions and win prizes. 

But even if you don't get it "formal education", there are a few things you'll do well to remember when raising your dog: 

Like their ancestors, dogs retain strong pack instincts.  They look for leadership and a strict social order (have you ever seen how dogs made to live together might always first sort this out, sometimes through intimidating each other or even getting a little growly?) 

As the trainer and master, you must always be the one to provide clear instructions and your dog will accept this and adopt a subordinate role.  (This is especially important with naturally dominant breeds such as the Dobermann, because they may try to challenge your dominant position.  If you're not a very strong person who can stand your ground, you might select a breed that will be managable for you.)

The tone of your voice is your most powerful tool.  When training your dog, always use an encouraging voice, except of course if you are displeased with something the dog did. 

Training on a particular subject should be done in bursts as short as possible to make sure you don't exceed your dog's attention span.  Try to keep your dog interested and your training will be much smoother.  Dogs who have lost interest in what you're teaching them may be just as difficult as a child with no interest in you. 

Choose a quiet time when your dog can concentrate, for example not when you have visitors or strange people over, or noisy children or something else is going on that is tickling your dog's curiosity. 

The rate of progress will differ from dog to dog and this is quite natural.  However the pace of progress may also be a reflection on your abilities and dedication.  It is important to be consistent with the training, as it may be more difficult to try and train a dog that has not been given any training for a long time. 

Also be smart and think of the future and the purpose of your dog, so you can do the needed training from day one. Something as simple as how you greet your dog may become an issue later on.

For example, if as a small puppy you always let it jump up on you with its front legs to say hello, don't expect it to abandon this behavior when it's become a huge grown dog living outside getting its paws dirty, greeting people by jumping up on them, even pushing them to the ground. It may not understand why nobody appreciate its friendliness.

Patience is also very, very important. Some days you will find that your dog responds well to its training, while other days you may feel that no progress has been made. Do not judge this on the basis of a single day. Look for improvement over the long term.

Do not rush the puppy's development though. Repeat the basic lessons as much as possible so they stick firmly in the dog's memory.

The first requirement might be to get your dog to respond to its name, so that you can always get its attention when you need it. The choice of name does not appear significant, although you might find it easier for both you and your dog to have a short, one word max two syllable name.

Repeat the dog's name at every opportunity within its hearing, so that it becomes accustomed to the sound. This will help it to identify with you, and soon instinctively it will come to you when you call its name.

Mealtimes provide you with an ideal time to use your dogs name when you call it to come eat, as the dog will feel amply rewarded for having responded to your call. Don't overstress the use of food as a reward though as you want it to listen to you even when you don't feed it.

If you would like to teach your dog a complicated routine, first divide the routine into small basic parts and teach it all of the basics first. Later on you may use all these abilities of your dog to form a longer sequence.

For example to have it jump up onto a platform, walk on a narrow plank, jump through a hoop and then push a button, first teach each of these parts to the dog seperately. Once it can jump up onto the platform at your command, teach it with a lot of patience to walk on a narrow plank. Etc.

Later on when your dog has mastered doing each of these at your command, you can string two and later more of them together to form a longer sequence.