Join LWDG Founder Jo Perrott with Experienced Trainers and LWDG Experts – Claire Denyer, Sam Thorneycroft-Taylor, Rose Setten, Emma Stephens, Abbie Reid, Nicci Kenny and Jemma Martin as they discuss how we can give our working dog ‘choices’ when training.
As a dog owner and handler, I’m sure you have seen a lot of bad choices made by trainers, owners and dogs when it comes to obedience and behaviour, and it seems that many people have lost sight of the true meaning of the word “choice” when it comes to training their dogs.
The word ‘choice’ is both a contentious and emotive issue, as the LWDG Experts reveal in this highly engaging and informative discussion. In this episode of LWDG PODDOG, we’ll be discussing what choice means for a dog and how to train them to make the right choices. This blog post includes the extended audio and video with subtitles too.
What is ‘Choice’:
Making choices is an important part of owning a dog. It’s up to you to decide what kinds of choices you want to make for your dog. Some choices include what food to feed them, what toys to give them, and what activities to do with them. You can also choose whether to spay or neuter your dog. These are all important decisions that will help determine your dog’s quality of life.
There is confusion about what ‘choice’ means among all dog owners when discussing training our dogs.
What Choice Means In Dog Training
You must help your dog understand the choice in any situation. They have to choose appropriate behaviour for the environment and/or the activity. Dogs need our guidance to learn when their choice is the correct one, and therefore we train which choice is right in a range of situations.
For a dog to be able to choose something in the first place, it needs to understand what it should (or shouldn’t) be doing:
“I have taught my dog to ignore another dog passing us on the road. How? I have taught my dog that it sits and looks for me for a treat when it sees another dog. At that moment, it is down to the dog to choose – am I going to bark/lunge at that dog, or am I going to remember what I was taught and be rewarded?” – Emma Stevens LWDG Group Expert
Guiding Your Dog To Make The Right Choice
We need to guide our dogs in the right direction so their choices are easier to make. Unfortunately, first-time dog owners often misunderstand‘ choice’ or ‘consent’. A common practice amongst dog owners is waiting for their dog to choose with no guidance from a very young age.
We need to understand that we have to teach and educate our dogs on how to make the right choice, so initially, when teaching the foundations of obedience, the dog needs help to make the right choice every time. This is taught through consistent positive reinforcement when we see the right behaviours.
At the start of their training, our dogs do not know what we want, and this is why we guide them, and show them, and reward and praise them when they are on track. We use management, guidance, and appropriate corrections when required. There is no need for harsh handling, but there is a need for guidance from you as their educator on the right choice to make in life. Help your dog build up a behavioural pattern of repeatedly doing the right thing to get the reward.
Must-do’s when giving our dog choices:
- Your dog should see you as their leader/educator. But, like a toddler or teenager – they need boundaries!
- Being able to educate, train and then reward is so important at the start of your dog learning any new command/behaviour.
- Your dog has no concept of speech or language from a human perspective. Therefore, we need to train what each word we say means regarding their actions.
- If you like what your dog is doing, let them carry on and reward that behaviour.
- If you don’t like what they are doing at the training phase, you need to intervene positively, distract or stop them from doing it to lure them into doing something else and making the correct choice.
- Most dogs want to do something for their owner. If we show them nicely the correct ways of doing things, they will want to make the right choice.
- A wrong choice needs to be corrected, but this doesn’t need to be done harshly. It is unfair not to show the dog what you want and don’t want.
Why Do Dogs make The Wrong Choice?
There is a reason when a dog makes a ‘wrong’ choice. It is normally a handling error in training. The dog does not understand what we want. So we, as handlers, must teach our dogs repeatedly the correct behaviour and then reward them for it.
If we are struggling with something at the beginning of our training journey, we should narrow our dog’s choices down so it is easier for them to make the right choice. For example, using a definitive pathway when teaching recall so the clear path for the dog is to return straight to you.
When a dog does understand what we require, we must correct them if they make incorrect choices when we have asked for something they understand.
When The Handler Makes The Wrong Choice
Unhelpful tips received by a novice dog handler such as “don’t train them for their first twelve months” can be taken too literally with devastating effects both for dogs and their owners.
As trainers/handlers, we need to be careful with our terminology and explain more to our friends/clients what we mean when explaining how to change a dogs behaviour.
When Dogs Need To Make Choices In The Field
When a dog knows the obedience and foundational commands, its training will include situations where the handler cannot guide it. For example, a dog retrieving from behind a hedge needs to use its own ability and initiative to find the mark, be it a dummy or a bird. Here we have to trust the dog to make the right choices alone. But at this stage in training, if we as handlers have done our job, making the correct choice is far easier for the dog as it has carried out similar exercises and has a large amount of experience to help it make decisions.
These snippets of wisdom from the LWDG experts are taken from the podcast and shared here for you; I hope they prove useful:
- You cannot enjoy your dog without giving it boundaries. You need to be the leader/educator.
- Set your ground rules and boundaries from the start, be consistent and fair
- Give your dog a ‘loaded’ choice. teach them the correct choice to make
- Take charge of the situation – there does not need to be anger. Correct the bad choice
- By ensuring we lay the foundations of the training and the choice making in early training, the more advanced training choices are often more easily understood by the dog
- We need to set the rules with basic common sense. You are shirking the responsibility of looking after your dog if you don’t set rules/boundaries.
- The rules we are setting need to be consistent from day one
- When teaching your dog to recall – make it as easy for the dog as you can
- Take the time to educate your dog, but reward, DO NOT bribe.
And finally, and most importantly for all of us dog owners, have fun with the dog and be a responsible owner!
In conclusion, it is essential to set rules and boundaries for your dog from the start. This will help them understand their role in the family and what is expected of them. Dogs are intelligent creatures and can learn a lot if we take the time to teach them properly. Be sure to listen to our full episode for more tips on training your dog to make the right choice!
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