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4 Secrets to an Effective Training Session

Holly Leake
Dog training can seem like magic. Trainers can accomplish amazing things with their dogs and yet when you train with your own dog, it may not go as you imagined. YouTube videos make it look so easy, so why can't you achieve the same results?

Well I'm sorry to say dog training isn't magic but it is a science that anyone can learn if they are willing to put the work in. So how can you create an effective training session? This blog is going to consider 4 Secrets to an Effective Training session, and how you can use them with your dog.

Build Confidence 

First of all, it's important to warm your dog up by starting training with a cue they already know. If you start teaching a brand-new cue straight away, your dog will likely become frustrated because they are struggling to earn treats. When they become frustrated, they may begin to vocalise or offer random behaviours. Some dogs will also show displacement behaviours, which are shown when the dog is feeling under pressure and is unsure what to do. You may observe this as yawning, scratching, sneezing and/or sniffing the ground.

When your dog doesn’t seem to be focusing, you will likely become frustrated and your dog will be able to sense this in your emotional state and tone of voice. This hinders your training further because it is no longer a fun experience for either of you.

For this reason, it’s really important to start your training session with something your dog is good at, to build their confidence before moving on to something new. Once you start practicing the new cue, it is normal for your dog to get it wrong, so be patient. Since your dog will need to practice this cue to perfect it, its beneficial to finish the session by asking your dog to do some cues they already know. Therefore, you start and end the training session on a positive, ensuring that their confidence is growing with each session.

Timing of Rewards

Ever heard timing is everything? Well you can train a dog even when your training isn’t perfect, however getting the timing right does speed up your dog’s learning significantly. Dogs associate the reward with the last thing they did, however, if there is a delay between the behaviour and the reward, they may not make the connection between the two. For example, you may ask your dog for a down and then realise your treat bag is unopened. So you fiddle with it and finally give your dog a treat. By the time you do this, you can guarantee that the moment has passed and your dog will not associate their behaviour with the delayed treat.
For your dog to learn the connection between a particular behaviour and positive consequences, reinforcement should be delivered quickly. It is recommended that you give your dog a treat within 3 seconds of your dog offering the behaviour, which requires you to closely observe your dog and have treats ready in a treat pouch. So timing is important but it’s something you will learn with plenty of practice.

Give Your Dog Time to Think

Have you ever been trying to solve a problem and someone is nagging you in the background? Do you solve that problem faster or do you struggle to concentrate? You may become annoyed and just give up entirely. When you yask our dog to do something and then ask again and again, your dog will become confused. Repeating the cue over and over to your dog, isn’t allowing them time to think.
I often feel that guardians are afraid of the silence and think they need to be giving constant verbal instruction, when in reality they don’t. When we need to solve a problem we need time and space to think. The problem may be relatively easy to solve but we still may need brief silence and space to come up with the right solution. Our dogs are no different.
So when you ask your dog to do something, remain silent and watch the cogs turn in their head, as they try to problem solve. You often find that they suddenly remember what to do and offer the behaviour. Once they have done it correctly, they will respond quicker the next time. On the other hand, if they still don’t offer the behaviour after 30-60 seconds, repeat the cue once. If they are still unsure consider if there is something distracting them and whether they need a quieter environment to concentrate. Your dog may simply need more practice at home or you may need to reintroduce lures, such as using treats to lure the dog into a down position.

Choose Rewards Wisely 

Often people think that their dog is uncooperative in training because they are ignorant or stubborn, however this is not the case. Dogs do what is rewarding to them and avoid things that are not. They don’t have a moral compass or the mental capacity to reason that they should do things that they don’t want to do. So they repeat the behaviours that are advantageous to themselves, therefore when you want your dog to do something, you have to ensure you are offering a reward that is worth working for. At home, basic dog treats or kibble may be effective, however, once you move training to an outdoor environment, you will likely need to up the value of your reward. Why?
Think of it this way. When you are expected to perform overtime or complete tasks that require further expertise, you are often paid more. Likewise, when your dog has to work harder to concentrate they also need to be paid more. Would you carry out overtime if you thought you weren’t going to be paid extra? Probably not. Hence, when your dog has to work harder due to distractions, you need to offer food they consider high in value, such as chicken or cheese. Offering a better reward will motivate your dog to engage with you, despite distractions or challenges.
So, there is a lot involved in effectively training your dog and these are just 4 small secrets to an effective session. Although these are definitely essential, the most important secret to training is ensuring you both have fun learning together!

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