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Its use in training dogs!

By DJ Hensch-Dahl (copyright 1998)


I have found that the easiest way to help folks in understanding and being able to train their dogs is by explaining the way dogs "associate" what we do and what the dog can do in response.

For example, let me describe a few example scenarios and see if you understand the association that we will be helping the dog to make correctly. I'll describe the problem and how to correct it.

PROBLEM: Let's say for instance you have a 4 month old German Shepherd puppy who started jumping up and spilling the bowl of dog food you are about to set on the floor at feeding time.

UNWANTED LEARNED BEHAVIOR: Every time you are about to set the food bowl down the puppy jumps up and bumps the bowl out of your hands. The puppy is learning that if he jumps up at the bowl in your hand he gets to eat right away - even if it means he has to eat off the floor.

HOW TO CORRECT: The thing to do is teach the dog through association that he will NOT be fed if he jumps. Before you are about to set the bowl down have the puppy sit. Take a hold of the food bowl and watch the puppy closely as you prepare to set the bowl down on the floor. If the puppy gets up from the sit you simply set the food bowl down on the counter and walk away. No scolding, no getting angry - just leave the area and leave your pup alone. Be sure the bowl is up out of puppy's reach. Wait a minute or two for the puppy to calm down and try again. Each time the pup breaks his sit you put the bowl up and walk away.

Now it may take a few tries before your puppy gets the association that if he moves he won't get fed, but when he does understand you will see a calm and patient dog. Your job is to be absolutely consistent and begin this training on your days off when you have more time to do follow through. As soon as the dog remains seated as you set the bowl on the floor give a release word such as eat now or OK and then allow him to eat.

ASSOCIATION LEARNED: If I sit patiently when its feeding time and do not jump up or attempt to get at the food bowl I will get fed. If I forget myself and jump I get nothing.

See how easy it is.

Here's another very common problem example:

PROBLEM: You are walking your dog and teaching him to "heel" on leash. Each time the dog forges or moves too far ahead of you a leash correction of a jerk is given as you say the command, "Luke HEEL". Now I have about every single client come to me with this problem and the people are so frustrated by the time they look me up that I have to SHOW them what they have actually taught their dog, through association.

UNWANTED LEARNED BEHAVIOR: The jerk on the leash IS heel to the dog because he feels the jerk at the time you are giving the heel command.

How can you undo this mistake and help the dog learn what "heel" actually is? You break down the lesson to a level your dog can easily understand and you switch to a command like "with me" to TEACH the correct heel position.

HOW TO CORRECT: I have had a lot of success if I tap my left leg invitingly and tell the dog "There's a good dog Luke, with me". As I move forward I use a very coaxing tone with the dog saying things like "That's right, good boy Luke, with me" which will encourage Luke to want to walk with me. Sometimes I can help the dog get the idea faster by holding a ball or treat in my left hand so I can direct the dog's attention and body into the correct position without using force.

I give LOTS of verbal praise and encouragement as the dog tries to please me. I toss the ball after every few steps in a heel position and gradually walk farther and farther until the dog is walking nicely on my left side. Soon I no longer need the ball because my praise keeps Luke's attention.

NOW is when I will apply the command HEEL. I am walking, the dog is walking, there is no pulling, and I say to the dog "Good HEEL Luke!" and we keep walking. I repeat this until I can say Heel Luke and he walks alongside on my left without any pulling or forging. PRAISE is a very important tool in helping a dog learn any command so use praise generously.

ASSOCIATION LEARNED: Luke has now learned to associate HEEL as his position on my left side not the jerk on his collar.



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