Positive dog training is more than just giving rewards to our dogs. However, that is crucial component. As we are rewarding dogs for behavior that we like and redirect or ignore behavior that we don’t like, we run into obstacles.
How can we train our dog in a positive way if we are constantly feeling frustrated? How do we move past this frustration and get back on track? What do we do with our thoughts, actions and emotions that seem to pull us away from positivity?
Negative thoughts hinder training
How many of you have negative thoughts when training your dog? Here are some examples:
- My dog knows this command and is completely blowing me off!
- My dog is so stubborn.
- I just can’t get my dog to listen.
- My dog is so dominant. I need to gain control of my dog.
- My dog is stupid.
- My dog doesn’t want to listen.
These are examples of thoughts that we have in our head about our dogs on a day to day basis.
I want you to close your eyes and think about one these thoughts. Notice how your body feels. Where do you feel tension and stress? Especially pay attention to the following body parts:
When you have these thoughts and feel this tension in your body, how do you act? Think of the following:
- What do you say?
- What tonality do you use?
- How do you move (stiffly or relaxed)?
- What actions do you take toward your dog?
Now imagine training your dog with these thoughts. How well does that work for you? Probably not that good. That is because your thoughts affect your results.
Your thoughts create your emotions. Your emotions affect your actions. Do you think you would respond well to a teacher that had the above negative thoughts about you as a human?
Positive thoughts help when training your dog
The first step is to gain control of your thoughts. The best step is to gain awareness of your thoughts. Then begin to ask yourself good questions:
- What do I want to create with my dog?
- How would I like to …
- act around my dog?
- feel around my dog?
- How do I want my dog and myself to function as a family unit together?
Once you have those answers start adapting your new thought patterns. Some thoughts might be the following: I want to be…
- a team with my dog.
- happy around my dog.
- friendly toward my dog.
- loving, caring and understanding.
Now once you have those new thoughts. What actions will you take with your dog? More than likely you will choose to listen. Your dog is not a robot. He has feelings, thoughts, wants and needs too. If you choose to listen to him you will have a better relationship.
When I have these thoughts I tend to talk to my dog in a happy voice. It is also easy for me to reward behavior that I do like. I am easily forgiving toward behavior that I don’t like. I break training down into simple steps so that my dog can easily be successful. These are all actionable steps to create positive dog training.
Intention and commitment setting
Think about the above positive thoughts and create an intention or commitment statement that resonates with you.
I am working with a dog named Diesel. His owners live in Mantua, They put a sign on their wall: “I intend to create friendship and understanding”.
Diesel, a Labrador mix, is extremely hyper. He jumps and mouths. This frustrates his owners. When they think of this statement they can easily remain calm and help Diesel to learn to relax. Acknowledging his needs for play is easier as well.
Another client of mine lives in Southington. She has Boxer / Labrador mix named Tara. She gets uncomfortable around some people and has bitten some of of them.
Before Tara bites she exhibits signs that she is uncomfortable. As a result, noticing these signs and helping Tara to become more comfortable is crucial. Negative thoughts generally lead us to punish Tara when she reacts in an unhealthy manner such as barking, growling or biting.
With positive thoughts, the owner can actually work as a team with Tara. She can notice when Tara is communicating that she doesn’t feel safe. From there she can remove Tara from the situation or help her feel more safe around the person.
Tara’s family decide to create this statement: “I commit to work together to help Tara participate with joy in our family life.”
Visualizing the results you want to create
This is another important key in positive dog training. It is easy to visualize what we don’t want and to set up our dogs for failure. The lack of awareness of these visual mental pictures is the problem.
Notice when you visualize what you do NOT want your to do. You probably do it more than you realize. Start by gaining the awareness. For example, you ask your dog to sit. Minutes later you notice your dog broke the sit. You then realize that the super long duration is why your dog broke the stay.
You must break behavior down so that it is simple and easy for your dog to grasp. As a result, if you break behavior down it will be easy for you to visualize your dog performing the behavior correctly.
What you see does become your reality. Science has proven this again and again. So start by seeing what you want to create.
I worked with a client recently that has a Shetland Sheepdog, named Liberty. He lives in Mantua. Liberty kept breaking his sit stay over and over again. The more he broke the stay, the more frustrated that owner got. Liberty’s dad voice got more stern. As a result, Liberty’s behavior deteriorated.
I asked Liberty’s owner to stop for a moment and to visualize success. He then began seeing Liberty staying, talking to Liberty in a happy voice and noticing how his body felt happy and relaxed.
After, that exercise Charlie began improving on his stay. This had a long lasting effect and is the basis for positive dog training.
When you visualize it is important to include all of your senses. What do you…
By visualizing with all of your senses your brain thinks of the visualization as the current reality. You now can now manifest exactly what you want to create.
Positive dog training is faster when a clicker is used
If you choose to use a marker such as a clicker, you will train behavior faster. This is because the click serves as a marker for the behavior before you give the treat.
If don’t have a marker, then you have to give your dog a treat during the actual behavior that you like.
Imagine using a clicker. The click means: “I like this behavior, and I want you to do more of it”. The click sound takes less than a second. Reaching in your treat bag to get a treat out usually takes 2-3 seconds and even longer if the treat is across the room.
Timing is crucial for learning. You want to mark the exact behavior you like. So start using a clicker now.
If you feel resistance to using a clicker, I recommend you read this post on the top 10 myths regarding clicker training.
Listening to your dog is an important step in positive dog training
We have talked about this above quite a bit above. It is important aspect to remember. When I was a little girl I constantly ask myself this question: “Am I working with my dog or am I working against my dog?”
I grew up using punishment based training methods. I hated it over time. At a young age, in middle school, I became a cross over trainer. That means I changed to using positive dog training.
Because it was new for me I got stuck quite a bit. In the past I wanted to control my dogs. It didn’t work so well. So I began asking the above question.
I learned some crucial information from this question on numerous occasions: My dog…
- was too distracted to even comprehend what I was saying. I needed to use higher valued treats to keep his attention, or I needed work in a lower distracting area.
- wanted to run and needed to get energy out. It would be best to exercise my dog first and then do training.
- needs a break. I am pushing him too hard in the training session. I can come back to this later.
- is confused. I need to break the training exercise into smaller successful steps.
There is so much you can learn from your dog if you just listen. If you choose to listen to your dog, you won’t regret it. You will be able to get your dog to listen. You will both feel safe, supported, loved and heard.
Allow and expect unpleasant emotions
When training gets frustrating it is easy to project those emotions on your dog. Expect that at some point you will feel sad, mad, scared, frustrated, disappointed, anger, remorse, guilt, regret, impatient, annoyed, irritated, violent, etc.
Emotions are normal especially unpleasant ones. These emotions are key points to change. They help us identify what isn’t working and what we want to do better.
If the emotions are super intense it is best to take a training break rather than project them on your dog by yelling, hitting, or even just using a rough tonality.
Give yourself some self-care. What can help you ground? Come back to training later when you feel more grounded and full of happiness or inspiration.
Johanna Teresi practices positive dog training in Middlefield, Ohio
I am a firm believer that positive training isn’t just about the dogs. Owners struggle too. As a result, I became a certified NLP (neurolinguistic programming) practitioner.
I learned that our emotions, thoughts and actions shape our reality. I help teach owners this. Our dogs reflect how we feel, think and act. Once we can change that, our dog’s behavior changes. I currently accept clients in Middlefield and surrounding areas.