You may have heard it before: your dog is always learning, whether you’re training or not. Take a moment to think: in the moments you’re not training your dog (there are a lot of them.), what is she learning? What do you want her to be learning? What could she be learning?
Of course, you can’t spend the whole day training your dog; or can you? The easiest way to train your dog is by focusing on the behaviors she already does in her own environment. Let me explain.
Dogs learn by answering two questions: What works (to get the things she wants)? And, what doesn’t work (to get the things she wants)? There’s no need to force, scare or trick your dog into obeying your commands. You simply need to help her answer these questions, and make the things work that you want her to do more often. Choosing behaviors you want your dog to do, and then making sure those behaviors work very well for your dog, will put her on the fast track to being a well-mannered companion. The more you reinforce the behaviors that you like, the more your dog will perform those behaviors.
For example, if every time you greet your dog, she gets a treat for sitting, she will quickly learn that sitting works very well. Soon, she will be a sitting machine, anxiously anticipating the moment you will walk through the door so she can offer an impressive sit and accept her reward.
When you begin to train your dog using this idea, the first step is to look around your home, or the places your dog goes with you, and spend some time watching your dog. What behaviors does she do that you like? In the beginning, you may feel there aren’t very many. Be patient, and pay close attention. Often, your dog may be doing a great behavior, but she may do it when you’re not watching, or she may do it so quickly that you may not realize it happened.
Great behaviors may include: laying down quietly while you type on your laptop, sitting when greeting you, bringing you a toy to play (instead of barking at you.), looking at you briefly when the doorbell rings, responding correctly to a casual cue you give them, or any other behaviors you appreciate. Whenever you catch your dog doing one of these behaviors, however briefly, scurry over to her and toss her a small piece of her favorite treat. It’s important that she gets the treat while she is still doing that behavior.
At first, you may be hesitant to interrupt such a great behavior (like when your usually rambunctious puppy is laying down quietly on the floor next to the couch), but your dog will soon learn that this is something that pays, and she will soon start surprising you with this great behavior when you least expect it!