Training 101 – Repeat Repeat Repeat

I’ve never tried to learn Japanese, but I can imagine how hard it is.  Spanish is so similar to English – even those of us whose study of the language ended in high school Spanish II can usually at least get the drift of what Spanish speakers are saying.  But Japanese!  You are dealing with different  inflections, grammatical structure, and sounds!  This is what makes training your pup so difficult.  Not because your puppy speaks Japanese, but because you two are speaking entirely different languages. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to learn, it is that she literally has NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! 

I care for a dog….let’s call him Buddy…who has some major aggression problems.  Buddy’s mom loves him dearly, but she refuses to train him or correct any of his bad behavior.  (This has resulted in Buddy biting and drawing blood on more than one occasion.)  I consider myself pretty fearless when it comes to those on four legs, but this guy is big and has been known to get me a bit rattled.  His mom prefers him to be walked with a harness, but of course Buddy HATES having his paws/legs touched.  He likes me well enough, so usually he is pretty tolerant of me gently lifting his paws.  Usually.  One morning, when Buddy was in a particularly cranky mood (yes, dogs can have bad days too) he tried to bite my face when I lifted his paw.  (I say “tried to bite” but I don’t believe he was actually aiming to take my nose off.  He absolutely could have…but he didn’t.  I believe this was his way of putting me in my place by trying to scare the bejesus out of me…aka a “correction bite.”)  (P.S. It worked!  I had the bejesus scared out of me!!)  Of course, walking Buddy every day is part of my job, so I couldn’t let a little thing like teeth to the face scare me away. 

I came up with a plan.  I would say and do the EXACT same thing before every walk.  EXACTLY the same thing.  I would stand by the door, instruct Buddy to sit (this included waiting until he did…no matter how long it took!), slip the harness over his head, and say “paw” when I was going to touch his paw and lift it into the harness.  By going through these steps every day, in the exact same order, Buddy knew exactly what was going to happen.  Better yet – he knew that nothing bad was going to happen to him.  Wouldn’t you know…after only a few days of “sticking to the script” Buddy lifted his paw every time I said “paw.”  By simply repeating the EXACT same thing, he learned what to do all on his own. 

I have done this same thing to increase my own pup’s vocabulary.  I don’t actively try to teach her words, but if I pick up something, I will say what it is.  The key to this is NOT to include the word in a sentence.  Just say the word.  For example – to teach her what the TV remote was, I simply said “remote.”  I did not (at least not in the beginning) say “Bring me the remote.” or “This is a remote.”  I did not sometimes say “tv remote” and sometimes “remote control.”  I just said “remote.”  It didn’t take long before she caught on.  Now, when I sit down to watch tv and the remote is out of arm’s reach, I simply say “Bring me the remote.” (she is already familiar with “bring me the ___”) I don’t even have to get up!  She’ll bring it right too me. 

This is why so many people have trouble training their pooches.  To your furbaby, “sit” and “sit down” are completely different things.  If you teach your dog “down” (as in laying down on the ground) you cannot also say “down” as a command to get off the furniture.  It seems like such a basic thing, but listen to yourself next time you are training or instructing your dog to do something.  Also, make sure that everyone taking to your dog is using the same vocabulary.  If your dog is jumping up to get his paws on the counter – are you saying “down” while your wife is saying “off.”  If so, your dog either (1) thinks you two are nuts or (2) will never learn what the heck you are trying to say.

Training and vocabulary work are great ways to keep your dogs mind sharp and to intensify the bond between you two.  Make it a point to work on new objects every week.  In an amazingly short amount of time, it will be like you are both speaking Japanese! Your pup will be happy….and you’ll never have to get up to get the TV remote again!

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