Dog Training: The Basics
We own two dogs. One cocker spaniel, female, seven years old and one Miniature Australian Shepherd, male (neutered), seven years old. I use the clicker and a prey dummy amongst other things to keep them mentally stimulated every day.
It’s important that dogs not only have the possibility to physically exercise themselves but that they also get mental stimulation.
What do you need?
Clicker training can be started immediately, even if the dog is only 8 weeks old. Clicker training also works perfectly with an older dog, it is never too late. Always keep the training sessions short. Clicker training is tiring, especially for a puppy but also for an adult dog. 5-10 minutes per session is enough. The dog would rather have 3-4 sessions per day than a full hour of training. Just remember how annoying a whole lesson of mathematics was at school.
Advantage of the clicker: A distinct and consistent signal that can be precisely timed. (Easier than to try and say good boy at the right moment.)
How to start: To make sure the dog knows that a click is followed by a treat use the first session to simply click and then reward the dog with something good. You can either give the dog its regular food or something like cheese or ham or other treats. Cut the rewards into tiny pieces and don’t forget to subtract the food from the dog’s dinner or lunch. We wouldn’t want them to become fat. Repeat the process click – treat, click – treat 50-100 times or until the dog understood that a click results in a treat.
Now you can use the clicker to reward any desired behaviour.
For the prey dummy:
The concept is fairly easy. One of the natural instincts, hunting/chasing, is used to motivate the dog.
Put food into the dummy (don’t forget to subtract the given food from the dog’s meals) and zip it closed. The dog can’t get to the food on its own. It needs your help. The dog knows the good things that are in the dummy (especially if it watched you fill it) and it can only get to it with your help. Motivation to work with you and a great possibility to work on team building.
The possibilities are endless. Start by teaching the dog to retrieve the prey dummy from the floor and bring it to you to receive a treat from the inside. Continue by placing the prey dummy further and further away, maybe even hide it. Start with easy places and amp up the difficulty as you go along. Throw the prey dummy and make the dog wait until its allowed to go and get it to train inhibition. Another idea is to teach the dog to carry the prey dummy on walks.
Please know that the dominance theory is outdated. Good trainers work with positive reinforcement. The dog gets praised presenting a desired behaviour. And undesired behaviour gets redirected into a desired one. Don’t work with a trainer who wants to hurt your dog as a punishment. This creates fear and aggression.
Reddit offers a very informative Dog Training subreddit.
Reddit also offers a Puppy Training 101 subreddit.
Kikopup offers a popular YouTube channel with a lot of dog training videos. Definitely worth a look.