Dogs learn best when conditions for the individual animal are set up appropriately and humans facilitate communications. Amidst stimulation overloads, dogs either lose their marbles with a complete lack of focus on the handler or shut down and are incapable of learning. Neither of these extremes makes for a productive training session.
Effective training occurs at a place that is correct for that animal’s phase of life and stage of training. Beginning training exercises work best with a low level of distraction. A reward history for any behavior happens faster when the dog has plenty of opportunities to respond correctly to obedience cues and to offer behaviors that the handler can mark and reinforce. Placing the dog in an environment where rewardable responses are unlikely is a waste of valuable training time. It becomes frustrating for the dog, too. Fun for anyone equals zero.
Dogs are very sensitive to changes in an environment. They really love sameness, predictability. So, when even small (to us) changes occur – such as a family member arriving home or friends in for a visit – it’s a big deal! The “right place” for a young dog-in-training may not be in the thick of the event. It takes dogs longer than it does humans to habituate to the world at large. There will be times when the “right place” is on the fringes or in a crate.
Dogs have a keen sense of space. When a dog reacts to a stimulus, a threshold distance has been breached. Finding that dog’s “right place” means creating a distance within which he can relax bodily and display calm, mindful behaviors in the presence of the stimulus. Spatial sensitivities are demonstrated all the time – every day. They include proximity to children, other dogs, traffic, storm drains….to name but a few.
For many puppy parents, there is a rush to give puppy more freedom to roam the house and yard, sleep on someone’s bed, snuggle on the sofa, dispense with time in the crate, etc….. Puppyhood is not the “right time”.
Sustained exposure to stimulation overload is usually unproductive. This is also known as extreme exposure therapy or flooding. It can work, but it can also do harm, especially for fearful dogs. Bolstering a dog’s confidence with training and using benevolent, consistent leadership skills prepares her for increasing exposure to everyday rituals. Coping skills develop over time with training and maturity.
Arousal levels escalate with prolonged engagement in some activities. Playtimes should be short, frequent, and include interruptions. The longer the dog races about with a ball or tugs on a toy, the more difficult it is to calm him. It’s not the “right time” to expect him to willingly, promptly relinquish the toy. Play with rules.
Leash walking is another good example of using “right time” thinking. This is a skill set, which must be actively trained in. Approaching other dogs on leash is the wrong time for interactions. This is not socialization: the interaction is counter to the dogs’ natural greeting ritual. In addition, it usually reinforces on-leash behaviors that are undesirable. The “right time” to practice beginner meet and greet behaviors is one greeter at a time, interacting BRIEFLY with measured enthusiasm.
Set up for Success
Certain dogs are, simply, not gregarious types. Some dogs are cautious and need space and time to unpack their surroundings and relax. Read and respect what your dog “tells” you. Work with the animal you have.
Adjusting expectations, recognizing individual temperament and personality traits, and exercising patience for working through a gradual, but worthwhile process are key factors for success. Proof will appear in the results.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2018 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC