Know What Your Job Is
- Be consistent
Your job as a trainer is to guide your dog through the process of learning a new skill. Guidance means never, ever yelling at your dog or worse, hitting your dog. If you feel you are getting frustrated stop the session and try again later.
Remember the behavior you are looking for and don’t be wishy-washy. It is confusing to your dog if you reward him when he didn’t do it right. “Here you go, that was a good try”. Use the same tone of voice each time and be sure to enunciate. Being consistent also involves having a training session every day, even twice a day if possible until your dog does the behavior every single time and you are sure he knows it. After that, don’t go months without asking for that behavior again. Just like humans, if he doesn’t use what he has learned, he will lose it.
You are your dog’s coach. Just like a coach in sports you must encourage, be enthusiastic, and praise a job well done! Use your high pitched “happy voice” — yes, even men have to use a higher pitched voice. Your dog may not understand what you are saying, but he will understand your tone of voice and your body language.
Timing is key. Remember the child’s game of “hot or cold” while looking for a hidden object? If the person tells you that you’re “hot” 10 seconds late, you’d never find the object! The same is true of training your dog. If you reward 10 seconds late, you may be rewarding a completely different behavior!
You must “mark” the correct behavior with a word, treat, or a clicker at the exact moment it is executed. If you are using a treat, make sure you have it ready. If you have to reach for it in your pocket it will be too late.
Dogs love to please their owners. So why won’t they do a trick just to please you? Because learning is hard! If you are teaching your two-year-old child to pick up his or her toys, do you expect them to do it just to please you? No, most likely when they do they get praised or get a snack before dinner.
You can reward your dog with food, a favorite toy, clicker or praise. I have found that most dogs are food motivated. What dog doesn’t like to eat? And what do they like most? People food. So, when you are training use an extra special treat, one that they only get when training. Hot dogs work great or pieces of cooked, unseasoned chicken, but make sure they are tiny pieces or you will soon have a fat Chihuahua.
No, you don’t have to carry treats around with you for the rest of your life. You are teaching your dog to do the behavior automatically. After he has done that same behavior 500 times it becomes muscle memory and he will just do it automatically no longer needing a treat for motivation.
How to “up the ante”
To begin training a behavior, start small and work up. What do I mean? As an example, say you are teaching your dog to “high five”. To start, reward him when he raises his paw. After he does that consistently, don’t reward him until he touches your hand, after he has that down, don’t reward him until he keeps his paw in your hand for a few seconds.
Use the “jackpot” Technique
Reward your dog a little when he does a job well, but if he does it better than he ever has before, give him a whole handful of treats. “Jackpot”! He will try extra hard from then on hoping to get the “jackpot” again!
When teaching a new trick, don’t let your dog be wrong more than two or three times or he may become discouraged and quit trying. Go back a step for a while so he experiences several successes.
The same goes for you. It may seem that your dog is never going to get it. He may squirm and obsess over the treats in your hand. Don’t get discouraged, just keep going through the motions day after day and soon a light bulb will go off in his head. How excited you both will be then!
If you are not a professional trainer, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t do these steps perfectly the first time either. You are also learning, keep doing it consistently every day and soon you will become a pro!
Training Your Chihuahua, Part III, What you may be doing that is setting you and your Chihuahua up for failure
CLICK HERE if you missed Part I