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Successful training doesn’t require fancy classes or structured exercises — the principles of ongoing learning can be used to influence your dog’s behavior during your normal, daily interactions with him. Training is simply a matter of reinforcing the behavior you want to see in your dog via rewards and praise. This is good news for pet owners who feel overwhelmed by the idea of training.
You may think your dog is untrained, but in reality, he has already been trained by you, even if this training was not intentional. The list of things dogs inadvertently learn from us is endless. A problem arises, however, when your dog has learned unwanted or undesirable behaviors. For example, your dog may have learned that when he barks, he gets attention. He may have learned that dashing out an open door leads to unrestricted freedom. He may have learned that pulling dirty socks and underwear from the laundry basket is the easiest way to incite a game of chase or tug.
Not all the behaviors your dog has learned on his own are unwanted, but they may not be particularly useful. Even without training, many dogs know to come — but what brings them running isn’t their name or a specific command, but rather, the sound of a food wrapper crinkling or the fridge popping open. In both cases, the dog is responding to a known cue; with a little training, you can channel that response into something constructive.
Teaching your dog some basic commands helps build good communication: When your dog learns the commands, he knows what behaviors are wanted and thus, rewarded, making him more likely to do those desired behaviors. Teaching basic commands is also a good way to limit undesirable behaviors that may be natural for your dog, but unwelcome in your home; for example, the leave it command can be used to remind him that the dirty laundry is off-limits.
Influencing your dog’s behavior doesn’t require expensive lessons or special animal-whispering talent. You already influence your dog’s behavior, whether you know it or not, in your interactions with him. Incorporating basic commands into those interactions — upon greeting people, ask him to perform the down command rather than jumping, or have him perform the sit command when he paws at the door — can mean big changes in his behavior.
Finally, teaching basic commands doesn’t have to be time-consuming. You don’t need to fit marathon training sessions into an already hectic schedule — a little bit of training goes a long way. Rather than giving up because you cannot commit enough time to training, incorporate practicing basic commands into your regular, daily interactions with your dog. For example, ask him to sit when: you open the front door, you put his food on the floor or you put on his leash. Reward him every time he does what you ask. It's that easy.
When approached properly, using positive-reinforcement training is an expression of love, and it's well worth the investment. If you need a little extra motivation or guidance, you can always sign up for a class, just to get you started. But, remember to have some grace with yourself and your dog as you work together. It may take a while, but you’ll both benefit from the process.
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