Is your dog giving you deaf ears? When this happens, avoid repeating the command over and over and imposing yourself until you get a response; instead, take a step back and consider the following scenarios which are some of the most common issues encountered when training dogs.
1) Low Value Treats: Are Your Treats Worth Working For?
It’s a romantic and hard-to-debunk myth that dogs work for us just to please us. In reality, as opportunistic beings, dogs are most likely thinking, “What’s in it for me?” according to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). The right use of treats can really make the difference between a dog who is eager to work and one who couldn’t care less. The use of low-value treats (such as kibble) can be detrimental if your dog isn’t excited by them, especially during the initial stages of learning or when there are distractions around, so make sure your treats are worthy of attention.
Also remember to stick to treats that are soft, smelly, and in small bite-sized pieces. This allows your dog to quickly gobble up the reward and focus his attention back on you, rather than being distracted by a longer-lasting treat.
A suggestion? Try to use what respected veterinarian, trainer, and writer Dr. Ian Dunbar calls the Ferrari of dog treats: freeze-dried liver.
2) Low Rate of Reinforcement: Are You Missing Out on Rewarding?
In the initial stages of learning or when there are lots of distractions around, your dog may find sniffing the grass, looking around, marking territory, and pulling on the leash more rewarding than training. Why is that? It’s probably because there are stimuli that are extra interesting and are worth paying more attention to. If your dog has received little training in the past, he may have been doing this for a good part of his life. Increasing the rate of reinforcement during this time by giving your dog more treats for his training efforts may help to motivate him and will teach him to pay more attention to you than to the distracting environmental stimuli.
A low rate of reinforcement can also cause your dog to get frustrated and stop trying. Remember, and, not a lumper” comes into play. It is often tempting to try to teach new behaviors all at once in one evening. When your dog stops working for you, you start thinking, “Am I asking for too much at once?” The truth is, often when dogs fail to respond to a command, it is because it is too hard for them. So try not to make things too hard too quickly. Instead, break the goal down into several steps that your dog can do to help it succeed. As an example, if you were trying to train your dog to touch the tip of a target stick with his nose, you could reward him for touching any part of the stick at first. Over time, once your dog gets the hang of this, you could then move on to rewarding him only for touching the rounded tip at the top of the stick.
Try your best to prevent your dog’s progress from stalling, and do not make your training sessions too long—keep them short and sweet!
4) High Level of Distractions: Is there too Much Going on?
Dogs learn best when there are little to no distractions around, so be sure to start your training sessions in a quiet room where there is not much going on.
Once your dog is able to perform the behavior in the quiet room, build from there and gradually start asking your dog to perform the behavior in a noisier room. Then, progress to the yard, a busy street, the dog park, and so forth.
If you start on a busy street or at the dog park right away, your dog may not respond because you have not yet built a foundation for the behavior.
5) Lack of Training: Has Your Dog Ever Been Trained Before?
If the handler has a history of being inconsistent and not following through with the dog, there’s a chance the dog may have learned he could get away from certain behaviors and has learned to ignore the handler. Dogs who have never been trained and have been allowed to do as they please for a good part of their lives often find the initial stages of learning difficult, since the concept is entirely new to them. It is up to the handler to become interesting and worth listening to by investing in reward-based training methods, like the ones taught in Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs course.
6) Unclear Cues: Are You Confusing Your Dog?
Dogs thrive on consistency, so make sure you always use the same command cue and that all other people training the dog are on the same page. If you ask for a command and your dog just stares at you, consider if that command has a history of being used consistently.
In classes, it is not uncommon to encounter a family where the wife uses “come” to call the dog, the husband uses the dog’s name, and the kids just say “here!” Don’t ask for behaviors in multiple ways, and make sure your body language is consistent with the verbal command. Dogs find body language more salient than verbal cues.
Also, try your best not to repeat commands over and over; otherwise, your dog will learn not to listen to you the first time you say it but will wait for you to finish your sentence instead!
7) Frustration Buildup: Are you Getting Frustrated?
Dogs are masters of body language, and they can easily detect frustration. When the handler’s frustration builds up, dogs often shut down instead of becoming more compliant. In this case, it helps to ask the dog for a behavior he knows well (such as a sit), followed by a reward, to end the session on a positive note. You can try the exercise again a little bit later, possibly further splitting the exercise into smaller sections if it was too hard for your dog.
If you’re afraid of thunder, you shouldn’t play recordings of thunderstorms at full volume. Is the dog in pain or unhappy?
If your dog ignores you, he may be feeling unwell or uncomfortable. If your dog has always been on the “5-to-5 grind,” dogs actively WANT to work, and when they do not, they become prone to behavior problems, disobedience, and poor psychological well-being. Many owners spend thousands on dog training when the solution could be as simple as providing Rover with more mental stimulation!
Fortunately, Brain Training for Dogs offers a solution to this problem. Written by professionally certified trainer Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA (whose work has appeared in USA Today, Everydog Magazine, Nest Pets, and more), Brain Training for Dogs is one of the first training programs to not only teach obedience, better behavior, and important tricks, but to also work on increasing intelligence and engaging the dog’s brain too. Through 21 fun and simple games, the novel and scientifically-proven methods taught by Adrienne are sure to improve the lives of both you and your dog! By the end of Brain Training for Dogs, your dog will be able to tidy up his toys, play the piano (yes, really), and identify his toys, while also becoming a better behaved and more obedient dog.