Monday, February 5, 2018

How to Train a Rescue Dog by Positive Reinforcement


(C) Allen Pearson
I have met a lot of pet parents who bring home either purely bred dogs or rescued ones. They swear on being very caring and understanding towards their dogs. They are always complaining to have failed in getting real results from all the training techniques. Huberty’s opinion of Nina in The Wrong Dog is nothing different!

There are several faces to the argument:
  • They spoiled their pet with a lot of love; so he listens to the owner no more
  •  They have become harsh during the training process, or have not rewarded their pet correctly and consistently.
  • They focus on the weaknesses. They are hitting the dog at his weakest link.
No one likes to be degraded. So, being a trainer, teacher, and a parent, you have to be encouraging for the positive aspects. It doesn’t mean that you keep your eyes off of the negative behavior. Train them with those too, but gradually and slowly. That’s what Positive Reinforcement is all about!

This short step-by-step guide will help you understand the complexities of your dog’s behavior and ways to train him by positive reinforcement.

1. Consider The Breed:

(C) Allen Pearson
Before you bring home a rescue dog, begin with the research on different dog breeds, their genetics and behavior traits. Once you get familiar with the good and bad points of your future fido, everything else gets easy.

Stephen R. Covey isn't wrong when he says: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Rescue dogs come with a whole range of behavior issues so figure out the genetics, focus on the strengths, and slightly hit the weaknesses to keep them on track. For the flaws, you have to be vigilant forever, and the dog will require lifetime training and appreciation.

Coming to the genetics, small dogs have a GREAT attitude, and an inclination to get easily spoiled. Large breed dogs have aggression, over-protectiveness, and dominating manner, which requires training to an extent only.

2. Consider The Previous Environment:

Next step involves detailed research on the previous owner, his training methodology, and his general behavior. Dogs often pick up after their owner’s attitude. Depressing surroundings at an early stage can make the dog gloomy, and disinterested. Aggressive owners promote the development of aggressive dog child or submissive ones. Here, again your understanding matters more than your dog’s. Invest in indestructible dog toys to let them give an outlet to their anxiety and aggression.

Avoid mimicking the behaviors of previous owners. Continue to train by positive reinforcement and encouragement. Give your pooch confidence, love, and care. Never overdo anything because your dog may misinterpret your actions and may take your commands for granted.

3. Checklist:

Prepare a check-list that has all the details of strengths and weaknesses of the rescue dog. It should detail the best and worst behaviors found in the dog. It should distinctly categorize the easily malleable behavior and other hard-wired behaviors ingrained in the dog’s mind since puppy times.

Differentiate between the genetically inherited traits and environmentally inculcated behaviors. The significance of checklist is that you will have a clear idea of what your dog is capable of and what’s out of question. Your expectations will be realistic and achievable.

4. Positive Reinforcements:

Positive reinforcement means rewarding the positive behaviors of the dog. You should be careful in making immediate connections between the desired behaviors and the rewards. Dogs understand your actions more than your words.

Motivate, appreciate, and give confidence to your new pet baby (even if he’s a grown up)

Target the environment induced traits first by positive reinforcement. Encourage, train, and be consistent.

The Do’s And Don’ts of Treat Training:

For effectiveness of positive reinforcement, and to avoid behavioral problems, keep in mind some of the do’s and don’ts at your fingertips.

The Do’s of Positive Reinforcement:
  • Immediately reward the dog for positive response (when in action)
  • Keep the training session short, fun, and positive
  • Phase out treats gradually
  • Switch between material and non-material rewards (the treats and praises)
The Don't’s of Positive Reinforcement:
  • Don’t get inconsistent with treat training
  • Don’t let the dog forget the lessons learnt! Maintain successful treat training by having “Revising Sessions.”
  • Don’t give complex commands, keep them to the point.

5. Train for Desired Behaviors:

Now that you two have become best friends, you can teach him to change some undesirable habits for you. At this stage of the dog-owner relationship, your dog will ‘want’ to make you happy at all times. Win-win situation! Right? Win the dog first, and let him win you later.

Having trouble with keeping him on the leash? Or the rescued dog appears fearful and anti-social? Whatever may be the behavior issue, you should remember that your dog had a tough time so he needs some time and space. Let him be himself for a while. Nudge him every once in a while in the beginning. Let him feel the freedom again! Accept him entirely rather than being critical at all times.

Think from the dog’s perspective because they have emotions too!!

6. Know The Limits:

Do you like anyone to change you entirely? Don’t you love getting accepted for what you naturally are? Yeah, here’s the key for you. You can’t change everything. For example, if a German shepherd doesn’t know how to flee from challenging situations, you cannot do anything about that. In contrast, a Labrador may flee from similar situations.

Limits also include your behavior to be similar to the dog’s previous owner in any way. Try not to make your dog uncomfortable, and wrongly interpret your behavior. It’s a tricky part!

7. Give Surprises:

Your newly rescued dog would love lots of surprises and treats to keep him happy and satisfied. Show your love and appreciation by giving surprises. Visit the dog’s favorite places. Give him his favorite food. Rescue dogs need a little more pampering to restore their faith in humans and humanity.

Tip: Never give the surprise when your pooch is engaged in unwanted behavior.

8. Make Time For Him:

Now that your dog is well-trained and well-behaved, it doesn’t mean that he requires no more behavior training. Your time and attention will keep him on track. If he lost interest in you and found you busy at all times, he may stop trying to make you happy by behaving well.

Never ignore your fido as most rescue dogs have been overlooked in their past, and they may take your behavior negatively too. Ignoring the rescue dog in crowded places can negatively impact your dog’s mind. He may indulge in unwanted behaviors to get the attention afterward.

Dog Training is a lifelong process. Positive reinforcement should be the spark forever. We, as dog parents, have to change our thought processes a little bit before we own a dog. It’s a great responsibility, and a lot of things get missed out. But, making a positive difference in your fido’s life will bring positive changes in your life too.

About the Author:
James has a black lab named Diana, who inspires his writings in LabradorTrainingHQ.com. A nutritionist by profession, he's an advocate for balanced meals that have the right vitamins and minerals, whether they be his or his dog's.

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