Training a Shelter Dog

Expert advice on teaching a rescue dog your rules.


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Positive Training
All dogs, no matter what their age or background, need to know what pleases and what displeases the people in their homes. They learn this most readily when appropriate behavior choices are consistently rewarded, the theory behind positive training. The more good (rewarded) behaviors your dog learns, the less inclined it will be to engage in bad (unrewarded) behaviors. Make it your goal to catch your dog being good as often as possible. You'll soon find your dog offering more and more rewardable behavior.

Says Sternberg, "Rewards for desired behaviors should be generous, and intense and unrelenting." Anything your dog really likes can be used as rewards. This includes treats, of course, but food isn't the only good reward. Dogs also like games, toys, belly rubs and lots of other things. Figure out what your dog likes and start thinking of all those as potential rewards.

Two types of positive training — lure/reward and clicker methods — work well and can be used together.

With a lure/reward method, you guide your dog into position (sit, lie down, stay) by using a treat or toy as a lure. When the dog follows the lure into the proper position, it earns a treat or toy as a reward. For example, raising a treat slightly above your dog's nose encourages a sitting position; lowering the treat slowly to the floor encourages the dog to lie down.

With the clicker method, you'll make a sound to mark the instant the dog does what you want, then reward it with a treat or toy. Simple behaviors (like sit or lie down) can be quickly trained this way, but one great advantage of clicker training is that you can split complicated behaviors into smaller mini-steps, rewarding each step until your dog performs without hesitation. Once your dog learns the mini-steps, you can link them together in a sequence to produce the more complex goal behavior.

Lure and clicker methods work well together. Encourage the behavior by luring your dog, then clicking and rewarding it the instant the behavior occurs. The click informs your dog precisely which behavior earned the reward. Dogs quickly discover they can make you click by doing certain behaviors and will start offering those without being asked, hoping for a click and reward.

To prevent dependence on lures, however, phase them out as soon as possible. After your dog follows the lure several times, make the same hand motion, but without holding a treat. (Hold the treat out of sight in your other hand.) When you dog follows the motion of your empty hand, quickly drop the treat into that hand and reward the dog. This lets your dog know it can earn rewards whether or not it sees them.

Lure and clicker methods can be used together. The handler initially lures the dog to encourage desired behavior, then marks it by sounding the clicker at the precise moment the behavior occurs. This lets the dog know the instant it's done right, and it's then immediately given a reward.

Practice training each new skill in different settings with gradually increasing distractions. Your dog will learn it should do as it's been taught regardless of the situation.

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Janet   Bethlehem, PA

11/27/2011 7:20:54 AM

good article, thank you

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Peggy   Norridge, IL

5/15/2011 1:07:45 PM

I can't seem to find any information on how to train an older female dog who hss been in a puppy mill breeding all her 7 years of life. For the most part she is potty trained but when she needs to go she will wet on the carpet or sometimes poop. When I walk her outside I need to leave a lot of time until she finds just the right spot to deficate. She doesn't seem to know how to let me know she needs to go out. I take her out regularlly three tmes a day but sometimes she has to go before we get outside and does so in the house. I let her know that is not acceptable by scolding her and she will hang her head and give me the sad eyes. What am I doing wrong. I've had her six months and when first got her, she was not leash trained.

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janet   bethlehem, PA

10/27/2010 4:23:57 AM

good article, thanks

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lonewolf   manhattan, NY

12/17/2009 9:14:12 AM

Very good article. I agree with the author. I disagree with one comment left.There is no reason to correct the dog. Correction is an old method and it has been proven time and time again that rewards for wanted behavior is the way to go not corrections. The real issue is to be able to form a plan to lead the dog away from unwanted behavior without correction. This is done by a well though out traing plan. Hard to do I
I have experience with several adopted dogs. The adopted dog I have currently was very agressive and had already killed two other dogs in fights. She now comes right away when called and is less and less in her own world and she is becoming very
Never have I corrected this dog once, only reward training. IT WORKS!!!!!!

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