To learn new skills, new activities we can do together and more ways to have fun with human and canine friends. There is a whole range of different dog training classes available, from basic training, to agility, trick classes, man trailing and more. The approach and attitude towards dogs of the professional dog trainer or canine coach running the classes is every bit as important for adult dog training classes as it is for puppy training classes.
When looking for dog training classes, be sure to do some homework before making a selection. Have a look at the trainer’s website and social media. Contact them and ask questions regarding the methods they use. One of the most telling questions to ask anyone that may be handling or giving advice regarding your much-loved furry family member is ‘What happens if they get something wrong?’
There are a number of different approaches to training dogs. A major difference of these approaches is whether they centre around punishment for doing something wrong, or rewarding when something goes right. There are also trainers who used a combination of punishment and reward, known as ‘balanced’ trainers.
Imagine for a moment that you are in the position of your dog at their first dog training class. New dogs and people that you don’t know are all around you. It’s all very exciting and it’s hard to concentrate. Suddenly there’s a ‘pop’ on the leash and your collar bangs against your throat painfully. You try to move away because that hurt, and there’s another jerk on the leash to pull you back into position. It’s all very scary and you crowd in against your human, hiding behind their legs for protection but instead you are hauled out and pushed into position and held there, confused and unsure what you are supposed to do.
Let’s try another approach to dog training classes. This time imagine that the trainer and your human are letting you look around, sniff where the other dogs and people have been and get used to the new sights and smells. You pause your explorations for a moment, standing by your human’s side. There’s the sound of something clicking or a ‘Yes’ or some other short word and something tasty appears right in front of your face. You think about what you did right before the noise and treat came, and do it again. There’s another treat! These dog training classes are great! If you keep trying new things, you will hit on what the humans want from you and get a reward.
This is not anthropomorphism. We know that dogs associate what they were doing right before receiving a reward with gaining that reward. The same is true for punishment, but surely the better approach is to build confidence and optimism using reward based training? Rewarding when something is right encourage the dog to try new things, and want to work with their human, rather than worrying about getting things wrong and shutting down, reluctant to try new things.
The best kind of answer to what happens if the dog gets something wrong is to change the question so that they can succeed. If things go wrong, draw a line under it and move on to something else. The more you build your dog up with success, either at home or in dog training classes, the more resilient and confident your dog will be and the better relationship you will have.