How Can We Keep Puppy Training Consistent?
Q. We’re adopting a Rottweiler puppy, which we are really excited about, but I am a little concerned about how to organize her training. My husband, our two children and I will all be training the dog. How can we keep things consistent?
A. Consistency is a must when you're training a puppy, as it is one of the main indicators of how successful a training program will be. In my experience, dogs fare best in homes where the entire family is involved in the training process, and where all family members share the same training methods and are consistent in their interactions with the dog even out of scheduled training times.
Create a United Training Philosphy
It’s essential for your family to have a united training philosophy. It’s not OK for one family member to use positive reinforcement and rewards while another uses physical punishment; this creates an environment of confusion and unpredictability for the puppy, which is not conducive to raising a relaxed and confident dog.
Training that relies on punishment has been shown to increase aggression and fear in dogs. The risk is further heightened when a child is the one doling out the punishment, putting them in danger of being bitten and giving the dog a lasting dislike of children. It is crucial, therefore, that you have a coherent philosophy for all family members. Children will do whatever they see their parents do, even if they’ve been instructed not to. For instance, even if a child has been told not to scold or hit a dog, but they see their parent doing just this, they are likely to imitate those actions and disregard any warnings to the contrary.
Instead of using punishment or intimidation, try a training approach the entire family can participate in, regardless of age or physical ability. I would recommend positive-reinforcement training, where your puppy is rewarded with treats and praise for doing what he is asked to do.
Take the Whole Family to Puppy Class
Once you’ve chosen your training philosophy, it’s time to teach your dog some specific behaviors. Since life gets hectic, one of the easiest ways to start off right is to do a puppy class; you can learn together and spend some quality time as a family with your new pet. While it’s OK to have one person teach the dog a new behavior in class or while practicing at home, as soon as the dog has mastered the behavior, it should be taught to the rest of the family so that the hand signal or voice cue is always the same.
The person who originally taught the cue can demonstrate it by doing the cue and rewarding the dog for performing the behavior. After multiple repetitions, have another family member ask for the same behavior by mimicking the vocal cue or gesture. If the dog makes any attempt to do the behavior, treat immediately, even if it’s not the full behavior; gradually move to only rewarding the dog for doing the completed behavior. If the dog doesn’t do the behavior at all, have the new person offer the specific hand or voice cue, wait two seconds, and then have the person who originally taught the behavior do the signal. Your dog will quickly realize what he is being asked to do and will respond with the appropriate behavior.
Create Household Training Rules
Dogs should consistently be rewarded for performing certain behaviors. When a dog goes a prolonged period without getting rewarded for performing a behavior, or when he is inconsistently rewarded for a behavior, his desire to do this behavior is decreased, and his success is hindered. Regardless of the reward — a treat, toy, petting, praise or walk — your dog should be consistently rewarded every time he successfully completes a behavior, no matter which family member is giving the cue.
Even when you aren’t in active training sessions, your puppy is learning all the time, which means family members all need to have similar ways of interacting with the puppy. Consistent rules about how everyone is expected to interact with the dog will prevent him from developing or keeping bad habits. For example, if just one family member allows your puppy pull on the leash, the habit will be harder to break. Begging is another behavior that will persist even if only one person in the family occasionally sneaks the dog food from the table; your dog won't learn that begging doesn’t pay off if he gets rewarded every so often for begging. Talk regularly with your family about expectations for interaction in order to keep harmony in your pet’s training.
In the end, the key to successful puppy training is communication, which starts when you choose a training method, and continues as the family sets training goals and works as a team.