Training Your Rescue Dog

When you adopt a new dog, you must start training him immediately so he begins to learn what is and isn’t acceptable in your home. There are several training methods you can use, but one of the most powerful methods is positive reinforcement.

Most dogs love food. Grab a particularly delicious treat, and use this to reward your dog for doing the right thing. If you own a dog who is a fussy eater, he may prefer praise or a game of ball when he does what you ask of him. The theory behind positive reinforcement training is that any behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated. One common example is when your dog jumps up. If you give him a hug every time he jumps on you, he is being rewarded for doing it, so he’ll continue jumping on you.

Basic Guidelines for Dog Training

Timing. Whatever your dog is doing at the time you give him the reward is the behavior that he is going to repeat. So, if you ask your dog to sit, and he obeys, give him a treat. But, if he gets excited and jumps on you to get the treat, make sure he sits again before he is rewarded. Otherwise you’re training him to jump.

You can use a clicker to mark the exact behavior you want, and this is often easier than trying to get a treat into the right position at the right time. You dog can learn that the click means a treat is coming, and you can be much accurate with your timing.

Location. Start training a new behavior in a location that is not very exciting, such as your backyard. This reduces the opportunity for your dog to get distracted. As he becomes more reliable, gradually move to a more distractable areas, so he learns to obey you even if there’s something interesting happening nearby.

Short sessions. Several five minute sessions a day are much more beneficial than a single one hour session when it comes to training your dog, and it usually is easier to fit into your lifestyle.

Be careful with commands. Use a short, easy to remember command, rather than a multi-word phrase for each behavior you would like to teach him. For example, tell your dog to “sit”, rather than “sit down right now”. Also, to a dog, “sit” is a completely different command than “sit, sit, sit!”. Choose one word for each behavior, and stick with it.

Consistency. Be clear in your mind what you are trying to teach your dog each time you train him. That way you’ll get the most out of each session, and won’t become confused. Make sure all members of the family use the same command for the same behavior. You may want to create a list of commands that your dog is learning and pin it to the wall, so everyone can become familiar and re-read them as needed.

Use shaping. Sometimes you dog won’t learn the right behavior straight away. It’s fine to reward a behavior close to what you want him to do, so he gets the general idea. From there, you can then only reward behaviors that are closer to what you want him to do.

There are dog training clubs in most regions that would only be too happy to help you train your dog. If you’re having trouble with training, do contact them before things become too bad.

Leash Training

In many areas, the law requires you to walk your dog on a leash. Leash training should start straight away when you bring your dog home. Depending on their background, older dogs may take a longer time to become used to wearing a leash, but all dogs can learn to behave nicely while they are being walked.

Dogs are like people in that some learn faster than others. Don’t be frustrated if your dog takes a little while to learn to walk on a leash, just continue your training and he will get there. Never hit or yell at your dog while he is learning, and don’t jerk on the leash, it wont help him learn any quicker.

There are many different types of leash and collar combinations available. Most dog trainers recommend a flat fabric leash which is comfortable to hold, and one that is four to six feet in length. Use a flat collar on your dog when you are training him; choke chains or prong collars can be harmful in the hands of inexperienced trainers.

If you own a particularly boisterous dog, you may want to try a head halter. These have a combined loop around your dog’s muzzle and collar around his neck, and will gently control his heat as you train him. It’s similar to a halter that is used to walk a horse.

There are five main steps to getting your dog used to being on a leash.

1. Put the leash and collar on him, and give him his meal. The leash is unlikely to bother him as he eats, and he’ll also start to associate the leash with something enjoyable.

2. Let him walk around the house with the leash attached, so he gets used to feeling a little weight on him. Take him outside into your yard as the grass will offer more resistance as he pulls the leash around.

3. As your dog walks around dragging the leash, occasionally pick it up and walk beside him, so he gets used to you being near him. Keep it positive, with praise and treats as he walks.

4. When your dog is comfortable having the leash on, use a treat to encourage him to walk with you. Most trainers teach their dog to walk on their left side. This is just convention, and there’s no reason not to walk your dog on your side if it’s more comfortable for you.

5. As your dog becomes familiar with you walking with him on leash, he may try to surge ahead. If he does this, do a quick clockwise turn, encouraging him around with you and rewarding him when he is again beside you. Again, short but frequent sessions are most productive, and your dog will soon learn that he needs to walk next to you to earn a reward.

Training your rescue dog is an investment in your future together. It means that you’ll avoid the stress of a badly behaved dog, and he’ll have the security of knowing what’s expected of him. Training is also a good opportunity to give your dog the kind of mental exercise he needs to thrive. Best of all, training is a natural bonding opportunity, where you can demonstrate leadership and your dog can learn to become comfortable following your lead.

Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver

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