Homework time

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Aug 4, 2014, 10.48 PM IST

In my centre, after each class, I give homework to pet parents to practice till our next session. Sessions are usually a week apart and I recommend that pet parents practise their homework at least twice a day. However, in our own lives, we do training all the time. Dogs are learning all the time, so we need to be cognisant of what lessons we are teaching them and what it is they are inadvertently learning.

For example, if you are using the dog’s name to call the dog for only unpleasant things like calling the dog away from play, calling him for a bath, calling him to bed, then the dog learns that responding to his name means end of fun or the start of something terrible. So the dog learns NOT to respond to the name. That’s why we need to remember that we are training all the time and have a good handle on our own behaviour around them.

There is a way to use this constant learning to our advantage – recall. If you use a dog’s name or recall sound for everything positive that happens around a home during a day, your dog is more likely to come to you when you call him. For example, call him to play with him, call him to go for a walk, call him for his meals – be conscious that when you call your dog and he comes, reward him every single time with something or the other.

The other thing that comes under this category of constant training and learning is what to play with. Your dog will often start playing with things that he is not meant to play with. When that happens, just take away what he should not play with, and give him something he should play with. At the same time, watch when he picks up his own things to play with, praise him, smile at him and let him know he is doing something you appreciate.

Someone once pointed out that your dog spends most of his time being a good dog. He spends a fraction of his day doing things he should not. Instead of focusing on the times he is being a good dog, we focus only on the times he is being a bad dog. When we do that, we are inclined to punish a dog more than reward him for good behaviour. Punishments, as we are increasingly becoming aware of, are poor tools for teaching – be it human kids or dogs. Rewards and praises are far more effective and have relatively fewer negative side-effects.

Positive training revolves around the idea of rewards. So it’s important to watch your dog for the 90% of the time he is being a good dog and to reward him. Ignore mistakes. Minimise damage.

Drawing boundaries also falls into this category of constant training. Every time your dog passes the kitchen door and chooses not to go in, praise and reward him. He will soon learn that staying clear of the kitchen makes you happy and he will choose to stay out of the kitchen. Dogs like to please their masters just as we like to see happy dogs. Work with this positive outlook on your relationship with your dog and training is no more a dry classroom session, but an opportunity to bond with your dog in a positive way.

Walks are particularly high on the training aspect. It’s not a time for the human to exercise. Neither is it potty time for dog. The dog sees the outside world, processes the information and makes conclusions about the world outside “home”. The dog could build an image of the outside world being all fun, or dangerous or just normal. It’s all up to how we present the outside world to our dog and how we manage it. We need to be on the lookout, prevent scares, minimise play sessions and encourage exploration to maintain a balanced view of the outside world.

So, though I do give homework for pet families that come to me for help, training is actually something that should be a way of life. And don’t get fooled by the old adage about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks. Dogs are learning all the time and the onus is on us that they are learning good wholesome lessons.

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