I’m not just talking about the skills professional dog trainers need. I’m talking about everyone that cares for dogs and has a role in influencing the dogs behaviour. That’s you, me, your dog walker, the groomer, your dog sitter, even your vet!
Patience is essential when working with dogs. When we rush things we cut corners and don’t allow enough time, and that all leads to frustration. And not just frustration for you, but also for your dog. Many good training plans are inadvertently sabotaged by a lack of patience. If you think that’s a problem for you, read my blog on patience for tips on how to find it!
2. Good listening skills
A good trainer listens to what the dog is trying to tell them. They watch for important cues that tell them how the dog is feeling and coping. Being able to read what the dog is thinking means we’ll not push them too far. We’ll notice when they are tired, or having a bad day, and we can respond to that in the way that makes the most sense.
In particular look out for any kind of stiffness, lip licking and staring as they are all signs that your dog is out of their comfort zone.
3. Plan ahead
When you plan ahead you set yourself up for success. Before you start anything with your dog ask yourself “what could go wrong?” and fix it all, if possible. For example, if you know a particular park can be busy with off lead dogs, at a certain times, and you know it’ll set your training back, then avoid it. If you know your dog will only come back for chicken, take a pile.
Also, be aware of your environment and keep clickers, treats, long leads, or whatever you need close by so you can get to them quickly. And, if you see an opportunity to do some training, don’t just rush over there. First, remind yourself of your plan, prepare yourself, and then approach!
4. Be adaptable
No two dogs are the same and neither will two training plans be. Being able to identify a specific dogs needs means we can focus our training efforts better and get better results.
It’s also important to be clear about the goal we have in mind. It is very easy to get bogged down in the details. For example, if I’m trying to get a dog to walk calmly past another dog, I might try to get them to sit as the dog goes by. This might be a good strategy, but it’s easy to focus too much on the sit part and forget that we really just wanted a calm dog. When we do this, we might miss the calmness we really wanted. Our goal was not the sit, although that might have been nice too!
When you are training, you’ll also need a fair amount of flexibility too. You might head out to the park to do some training but find the local school is doing a park run. This might be an opportunity for you! But, if it’s not, don’t be afraid to abort and go elsewhere. Also, don’t be afraid to quit and go home if stuff isn’t working out for you. If you, or your dog, are having a rubbish day, it might not be worth the effort to keep trying. Tomorrow is another day!
5. Be consistent
Dogs need consistency to learn. We can’t explain to them what we want verbally, so they rely on a system of trial and error, and well timed rewards.
Once you start something you have to keep the rules the same each time. Your dog will be much happier if they know what to expect and how to ask for what they want/need. Changing the rules or giving treats for “close enough” is very confusing in the long run and can lead to frustration.
6. Be persistent!
Once you start something you must keep practising it with your dog. If you are trying to change a dogs behaviour or response to something, it’s unlikely they’ll adapt in one session. They have a history of doing things one way. So, you’ll need to work hard to undo all those experiences and make a new habit.
7. Know your dog
Understanding how dogs learn and how they experience the world makes a huge difference to how you work with them. Knowing your own dog, will get you a step even further. Watching your own dog to see what is normal for them; what rewards do they like or not like? How do they look when they are happy, or frightened, or grumpy? How do they like to play with other dogs? How do they feel about loud noises, or traffic or coffee shop noises?
This is all specific to your dog, but knowing how he’s really feeling will help you know how to get the best out of them at all times.
What other essential skills do you think are important for a dogs behaviour?
Are you struggling with your dogs behaviour?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond, or via zoom. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!