Training & Behaviour

A well trained pet is a happy pet!

Key Points

  • A well trained pet is a happy pet and the owner of a well trained pet is a happy owner!
  • For dogs, responsible ownership involves having a well-trained dog that are obedient and safe.
  • This training should be start as soon as the puppy comes home and socialisation from aabout 10 days after the vaccine course is completed.
  • For cats it's important you provide a stress free cat friendly environment and you play with and handle your kitten from as early as possible.
  • More on Pet Behaviour and Training is available on ZenPets including a raft of brilliant pet training videos.
  • Can I train my kitten?
  • Crate Training
  • Things I Can Do
  • Training Methods
  • Training your puppy

Can I train my kitten?

Unfortunately, not really. Cats are great pets but they’re so, so different from dogs! They just won’t listen to us and they’ll make up their own mind as to what they want (and don’t want) to do, they have a different kind of, ahm, intelligence.

A baby kitten will learn to use a litter tray in about 5 minutes; a puppy can be having ‘accidents’ for weeks!

One thing though – a kitten’s normal play-behaviour is to play-bite and scratch. Don’t encourage this; it can get a bit too much especially if there are children in the house. Just say no and put your kitten down when he or she starts to play like that.

In summary: cats are great but you’ll (probably) never make yours sit!

Crate Training

Crates should be used with caution in dogs with anxiety issues. If the dog is locked in too early and still very anxious they will make a desperate attempt to escape, potentially injuring themselves. With destructive dogs it is tempting to confine them to an indoor crate but this often merely contains the dog and localises the destruction. Owners may not be aware that the dog is still extremely distressed and do not notice the damage the dog is doing to escape.

By nature dogs are den animals and want to have somewhere of their own to go to, somewhere they know they will be safe.

"Never give out and send the dog to its bed as a punishment.  To a dog its den is a safe haven."

Most create their own dens by sleeping in corners or under tables. It therefore makes sense to supply them with a den of your choice in a location of your choosing. Dogs will rest in their dens and will feel safe, secure and relaxed there. The feeling of security can be enhanced by placing a sheet over the top and down the sides to suggest a solid roof and walls. Training your dog to a crate that can be shut is the ideal answer to house soiling and destructive behaviour.  

The crate should be the size of the dog’s bed and big enough to allow the dog to stretch out, stand up and turn around comfortably.The door should not be shut until the dog is very comfortable inside it and uses it of its own free will. Start by placing familiar bedding inside with a water bowl. Allow free access in and out.  Encourage the dog to enter by throwing in titbits or favourite toys. Feed the dog progressively further inside. Feed the dog inside the crate without shutting the door. Leave food treats and chews there many times during the day for your dog to find.  If you find your dog in the crate, give lots of praise. Once you notice that the dog chooses to lie there at various times of the day then the door can be shut while you prepare the dog’s food and then place the food inside the crate and again shut the door. Work on making this the dog’s favourite place.  

Whilst in the crate during the day shut the door, talk to the dog occasionally as you continue normal activities and now and again poke treats through the mesh. You can ignore the dog while its outside the crate and lavishing attention, treats and praise when the dog is in the crate.

Only offer special treats when the dog is inside the crate with the doors shut. The idea is to teach the dog that having the doors shut is a prelude to a pleasant experience and not that it’s been locked away and punished.

If your dog continues to be fed there, has its chews there and gets attention whenever it’s in the crate the dog will want to spend more time there.

Access to other sleeping areas should be denied during the introductory period – not by giving out but by placing physical barriers in the way.

Stop using the crate if your dog shows signs of increased destructiveness, anxiety or violent attempts to break out of it.

Things I Can Do

Sit

Have the clicker in one hand and a treat in the other.  Put your hand with the treat over the top of the dogs nose and about two inches from his head.  Move the treat over his head.  As he tilts his head up to follow the treat his back end will tend to go down.  As soon he puts his bum is on the ground click and give the treat.  Repeat 10-15 times.  When he reaches 80% success rate attach the word “sit” along to the hand signal.  Assume the start position, say “sit” and do the hand signal.  When he sits, click, praise and treat.  Repeat 10-15 times.  Now, assume start position and  try just “sit” – give him time – remember to give 30 seconds for him to think about it.  If he gets it correct click and treat.  Otherwise go back a step.  Remember to only give the treat when he is in the sit position – if he gets up start again.

Down

Treat in one hand clicker in the other ask him to sit, don’t click or treat say “good dog”.  Put the treat in front of his nose and move it slowly to the floor, straight down.  He should follow it to the floor and end up lying down – as soon as his elbows touch the floor, click and treat.  Start with him in a sit position each time and mix up the rewards for sitting between praise and click/treat at random.  As before, when he can do this 80% of the time you give a verbal cue “down” prior to the hand movement.  After several repetitions assume the start position and say “down” and allow 30 seconds if needed.  If he’s not getting it start again – say “down” and follow with the hand signal.  Then once 80% successful try start position and “down” signal.  Remember to always click and treat when he performs the behaviour.

Puppy Push-ups

Once he can do sit and down get him working out by getting him to sit, click and treat.  Then into a down, click and treat.  Then back to a sit, click and treat.  Use the hand signals if required to start with.  When he gets really good, move on to just verbal cues.  Again now start to give the click/treats on a random interval – he doesn’t know when he’ll get the treat so it’s still worth putting the effort in just in case it might be this time.

Stand

Get him to sit.  Take a couple of steps backwards.  If he gets up to follow you click and treat.  If he stays make a kissy noise to invite him and click and treat when he does.  When you know he will follow you say “stand” step back click and treat.  Once 80% consistent give just the verbal cue.

Now try giving “sit”, “down” and “stand” verbal cue in random order so he doesn’t get in a habit of giving them only in a certain sequence. 

Stay

With your dog in a sit position in front of you, put your hand out in a universal stop signal while saying “stay.”  Bring your hand back to your side while taking a step backward, followed immediately by a step forward so you are back to your starting position.  Click and treat before he stands up.  With some dogs this may have to be done very quickly to start with.  Once he gets it, increase the distance by one step until 80% consistent at that level and continue to increase a step at a time, always going backward and then forward again to the start position and then click and treat.  Once great distance has been achieved start by moving to the left and right – again starting at just one step and increasing.

Come

With your dog a couple of feet away from you say “come” and turn and run away.  When he runs after you click and treat.  If you are not followed make kissy noises and run a few more steps.  Don’t be afraid to get excited so he’ll be excited too.  You want it to be fun for him to go to you.  When this is reliable gradually decrease your movement until he is coming to you while you stand still.  You need to be able to make yourself more appealing than everything else going on around the dog.  Use toys as a reward for coming by throwing the ball for him as a reward for responding to “come.”  Once consistent, ask him to come and then sit, click and treat or throw the ball whichever is most rewarding.

Heel

Dogs pull on leashes because we are slow and boring and pulling seems to get them where they want to go. Try and start in the garden without the lead on.  Walk around and any time the dog is walking near you click and treat.  He’ll learn it’s good to be near you so now introduce “heel” before giving the click/treat.  Now attach the lead and go for a walk.  Stand at the door, get him to sit and say “heel” and step out.  If he runs straight to the end of the lead stop and wait for him to stop and look back at you then click and treat – hold the treat to the side so he has to come back to your side to get it.  Now with the lead loose say “heel” and try again and repeat as before if required.  Try to click and treat as often as possible as you walk before the lead tightens.  You can also do a lot of directional changes to keep the dog from getting bored with you.  This also prevents the lead from tightening and gives you more opportunities to click and treat.  If he starts to get ahead of you turn and go the other direction.  Now he’s behind you and has to try and catch up – lots of loose leash to give lots of clicks and treats.  He will soon learn that rewards come from having a relaxed lead.        

Paw

Get him to sit and praise him for a job well done.  Place a treat in your hand and hold it at his chest height.  He may try to open your hand with his nose etc.  Eventually he will paw at your hand to get the treat.  At this moment click and open your hand to give the treat.  Repeat this and the pawing will happen faster.  Now introduce “paw” when you know he will do it.  Having set him up for success click and treat.

High Five

Similar to giving the paw.  Get him to sit and place your treat hand out in front of his head.  He’ll have to raise his leg up to hit the target and when he does click and treat.  Introduce “high five” when he does it consistently.

Training Methods

Are you relaxed and interested yet?

Never try to train your dog until after exercise when he is more physically tired and more mentally focused and alert.  If using treats, train before mealtimes when he is hungry and keener to work. Remember: reward the behaviour you want and ignore the behaviour you don’t want.

Signals, not commands

It is better to think of training as a set of signals you are sending your dog.  This way when he can’t perform a trick he is not disobeying a command but rather has failed to read your signal correctly.  This will help you think of your part in the training process and that perhaps you are not sending him a clear signal.

Short and sweet

Keep training sessions short and sweet.  A good time to go over the basics is when watching TV.  When the ads are on turn the volume down and run through a few of the basics for the 3 minutes.  Remember always finish on something you know he can do and always be upbeat and positive.  It’s important for you both to enjoy the experience.

Be patient

When your dog is learning all this new information be patient and give him time to figure out what you are trying to get him to do.  It is good to give your signal and wait 30-45 seconds to let him try to guess what exactly is required.  If he can’t get it after this amount of time say “oops” in an upbeat manner this gives your dog a try again signal.  Start again by going back to a step in the training he was able to perform consistently.

Assume position

Dogs are very good at reading body language and when training every little detail is noted by them.  Try to have a starting position you use before giving a signal.  A good idea is to stand up straight with your arms at your chest.  This will be a good starting point for you and him as you go through the training steps together.  Close your eyes and imagine what you are going to do and what you want him to do before starting.

Clicker training – click, treat and repeat

A clicker is a small plastic devise that emits a loud clicking sound.  It is a unique sound that to start with has no meaning.  The basis is that you only click the behaviours you want.  The click will tell the dog if he has performed the right behaviour to earn his treat and also makes you as the owner focus more closely on the behaviours he is performing and which ones deserve to be rewarded.

To introduce the clicker give a click followed by a food reward/treat.  Continue with several more clicks followed by a treat – one click/one treat.  Following on from this introduction the dog should look pleased and excited whenever the click sounds.  You are now ready to clicker train.  You can now lure or naturally allow a desired action to be performed.  Once the behaviour happens click and reward the behaviour.  Once the behaviour becomes more regular, due to positive reinforcement, you can give the behaviour a name e.g. wait for your dog to sit, click & treat, repeat many times, now as he is about to sit say his name and “sit”, if he sits click, treat and repeat.

Rules: 

Never give a click without a reward. 

Don’t use it to get the dogs attention; he only gets a click after performing the desired behaviour.  Once he has the behaviour only food reward occasionally to keep him interested in continuing to perform the behaviour.  He’ll never know which one he’ll get the treat for so it’s always worth doing the behaviour just in case.

Mental and physical exercise

Try to give your dog an energetic fun run twice a day (at least 20 minutes per time and more depending on the age and stamina of the dog).  Making basic training fun and challenging will provide a workout for the dogs brain which is essential in developing confidence.

Teach your dog to trust you.  Do this by making the dog earn all the things he values and enjoys  – this includes praise, petting, treats, putting the leash on, going through doors, tossing his favourite toy.  For all these things the dog must sit – he must learn to say please by being calm and by sitting. 

Environmental enrichment for the dog

Wild dogs spend a lot of their time in search of prey, hunting, catching and scavenging.  In domestic situations feeding times are greatly reduced to just a few seconds.  The result of this is under stimulation, boredom and possible behaviour problems such as destructiveness.  We need to make our dogs work for their food and stimulate normal wild behaviours.  Chewing soothes dogs when they are anxious and is an activity used to relieve boredom.

Activity feeding

Scatter the dog’s food in the garden for the dog to find.  Use activity feeders or take the lid off empty plastic bottles – these can be suspended at dog height to enable the dog to knock food out.  Hide the food in several locations around the garden.  Feed most of the daily amount through activity feeding methods in several short sessions.

Training your puppy

Responsible ownership involves having a well-trained dog and this training should be start as soon as the puppy comes home.

Puppies are continuously learning from the moment their eyes are open and responsible breeders will ensure that the elements of training have commenced long before you acquire the puppy at 6-8 weeks of age. Remember training is not some formal process but should occur all the time you are together with your dog.

Training and socialisation are intermixed, a well socialised dog is invariably a well trained dog and vice versa. Thus puppies should be socialised. They should be handled by family members and strangers as soon as possible and then be introduced to other dogs, preferably to puppies, as soon as their inoculation programme allows.

Are you relaxed and interested yet?

It is better to train your dog once he’s run off some steam, which means he can focus better and be more alert. If you are using treats to train him, do your training before meals so that he is hungrier and keener to work for his reward.

 

 

Remember though, the top tip is to reward the behaviour you want and ignore the behaviour you don’t want.

 

 

Don't forget to learn all you need go to ZenPets where there's tips and tricks and a great video resource on dog training thanks to Dogs Trust.

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