The life of dogs has changed profoundly over the past few years. As auxiliaries in many indispensable activities, most of them have become effective members of the family in which they live and are considered by the vast majority of owners.
Different expectations are pouring on the dog today than in the past, even recently, when its role was still largely linked to needs such as guarding, sheep farming, the owner’s defense, for example.
Today most dogs live a less busy life and more inserted in family dynamics.
Many dogs follow their family everywhere, on vacation for example, so much so that they have pushed hotels and other structures to accept their presence more and more.
And how many of us bring our friend with us whenever they can? At the bar, at the restaurant (in this case too, more and more people accept them), in the shops, etc.
But for this to be possible, it is necessary for the dog to know how to behave in order to be well accepted. Here because educating him is indispensable. But it is not the only reason, as we will see.
1. Why educate it? For her sake and also for ours
If it is true that the dog is increasingly experienced as a member of the family, and it is a beautiful thing, it is equally true that he often does not receive the information necessary for this role in the appropriate times and ways.
Here then that many problems, large and small, go to spoil the relationship between the owners and their friend, who is sometimes put aside or even abandoned because it does not meet the expectations of those who have chosen it.
Educating the dog to the life he will find himself sharing with us, therefore, is necessary first of all for him, so that he does not have to face serious mishaps or the trauma of being rejected, which for a social animal is the worst possible event.
But educating him also serves us, in order to really enjoy the incredible contribution that the dog is able to make to our life and that of our family: unconditional affection, companionship, empathy, life lessons, fun, play, contact with a still natural creature.
Why give up all this, if in the end it takes very little to have a friend well integrated in our life and in our society? What little is above all education and that is,
basically, to provide the dog with tools of self-control and ability to learn.
Through applied education with systems based on ethological knowledge we can easily control the dog’s behavior, obtaining many benefits for everyone.
For example, if our friend always and promptly responds to the call when he is free, we can let him move and vent wherever there are adequate spaces (from the city dog areas to meadows, woods, etc.), clearly improving his quality of life, because the dog he was not born to move on a leash and has a great need to explore, smell and investigate the territory.
So, if we can let our friend free knowing that, if necessary, he will come to us immediately when he is called back, he will live better and we will benefit from it because he will be more peaceful and satisfied, once at home.
Conversely, when he is on a leash, a very frequent situation for obvious reasons, if he is able to walk quietly at our pace without pulling, the walk will be peaceful and we will not get nervous. As a result, the dog will go out more often and longer.
Furthermore, if faced with stimuli such as other dogs, cats, children who approach, bikes that pass, etc. our dog looks at us waiting to know how to behave and does not take autonomous initiatives, the risk of accidents drops drastically and increases both its security and our peace of mind.
The practical benefits of having an educated dog could continue for a long time, but these examples should be enough to convince anyone.
2. When to start?
– As soon as possible
Analyzed some of the strongest reasons to decide to educate the dog, let’s move on to the “when” to start, because this aspect has its importance.
In fact, exactly as it happens for us, young subjects are more inclined to learn also in the canine species.
A child is able to learn a foreign language very quickly compared to an adult and, moreover, what he learns takes root deeply and remains. The same happens in dogs.
This is why it is recommended to start basic education as soon as possible, that is, when the puppy is effectively protected from vaccinations and can serenely attend other dogs and their environments. The appointed place, in fact, is a dog center (we’ll see how to choose it). The ideal age, therefore, corresponds to 3-4 months.
– What if it’s bigger? No problem: learn the same
Obviously, not everyone takes a puppy. The adoption of a subject with a few months more or adult or even elderly is certainly not a rare thing.
Well, if our friend is no longer a puppy, maybe for some time, no problem because all dogs are able to learn the basic rules, just know how to teach them and be patient enough to learn them.
In addition, it is also important to keep in mind that adult and elderly dogs that are in kennels often come from an experience in the family and already have some of the appropriate skills, acquired during their previous cohabitation.
Another non-secondary fact: in the case of the adoption of older dogs, the effort required to manage them will almost always be less because they are less active and lively, due to age. In any case, all dogs can be educated, with the right method and a valid dog educator to support us.
– The right method: respect for the dog and ethology
To teach anything to a dog, puppy, adult or senior, there are several techniques but the basic method is always the same and the technical definition is “Instrumental learning” or “Operative conditioning”.
It is based on what ethologists and scholars have learned and developed since at least the early 1980s.
The concept, reduced to the bone, is as follows: “If an action leads to positive consequences, it is very likely that it will be repeated”. The thing is so obvious, since it also applies to us bipeds, that it seems impossible that it has not been caught before …
In any case, this completely natural concept is exploited by addressing the dog’s behavior through the use of “reinforcements”, that is, things that the dog appreciates and receives for having performed a behavior functional to our needs.
An easy-to-understand example concerns the teaching of “sitting”, One of the behaviors most commonly required of the dog to have it under control.
– Make him sit: this is easy and fast
The movement that will cause the dog to sit is presented initially by bringing a hand that holds a bite between thumb and forefinger first on the nose and then above its head; this normally causes the dog to look up to follow it and, due to its physical structure, to sit down.
If the movement of our hand is associated with the sound signal “sit” and if the dog makes the desired movement, the “reward” (the mouthful) will follow, which has the specific and very important purpose of reinforcing this behavior, so much so that it is called just “reinforcement”.
Through the repetition of the sequence, the association of the sound-signal occurs in the dog, for example “sit down” to the action of sitting: it is an “association between events”, the gradual learning of a behavior consequent to our precise request, which will be perfected over time by gradually removing the mouthful from the hand, then reducing the amplitude and size of the gesture, then removing the gesture itself, to finally use only the sound-signal.
It works, early and well. And for any command, if we decline the method correctly.
3. Just bites?
To gratify the dog during education, we do not only have the mouthfuls available (which in any case must be very tasty to be truly significant), the game also has excellent “reinforcement” qualities.
It is advisable to focus on two types of game in particular, suited to the natural and instinctive needs of the dog: a hunting game and a role playing game.
In the first case, let’s talk about ball hunt. Indeed, to the balls. You need two, the same so as not to create preferences in the dog.
One we throw it, close to us, and the other we hold it in our hand making it clear to our friend that if he leaves the first, the second will arrive, and so on until he has learned that bringing the ball back is the only way to be thrown yet. At that point, only one will suffice.
The other game is the “tiramolla”, With a braid or other suitable object (found in pet shops). It plays a game that dogs willingly play with each other with a branch or other object found by chance and is usually highly appreciated.
Among other things, it also serves to teach the command ” Leave”, Extremely important. The educator will explain everything more thoroughly but it is good to know that the equipment needed for education is certainly not complex or expensive, but it is necessary.
The last reinforcement available to us for dog education is called “social“And it consists of our approval for the correct behavior of our friend: praise, pampering and joyful attitude are important for the dog, because in this way he understands that we are satisfied with him and this, for a highly social animal, is essential.
Feeling appreciated and seeing that his collaboration is a source of joy for us who are, or should be, his “leader”, pushes him to commit himself even more.
However, compared to the other reinforcements that we have mentioned the “social” is not the most significant, for most dogs, but it is still very important and is always useful when, for any reason, we do not have bites or toys available.
4. Education is also prevention. Move educate it?
– Education is also prevention: less risk of behavioral problems
An important but little considered aspect of the advantages deriving from dog education concerns the value it has in the prevention of behavioral problems.
In addition to a genetic predisposition or to the lack of socialization and habituation of the dog, the third most common cause of behavioral problems are the traumas that a subject can suffer in the course of life, for the most diverse causes.
Even the most serene and balanced dog, in fact, may have the misfortune of being attacked by another dog or a human being, or be the victim of a road accident, for example.
Events like these always leave their mark, exactly as it happens to us. In fact, canine behavior experts as well as psychologists who deal with human beings always advise to work to face and overcome the consequences of a traumatic event.
But preventing it is obviously much better. IS an educated dog, who does not take potentially dangerous initiatives, listens to us, does not run away and returns to the call has much less chance of suffering trauma.
– Where to educate him? The proper dog center
In Italy there are really many dog centers where we can educate our dog led by expert and passionate instructors. But, as always, it is essential to choose well.
The criteria are few, in reality, but respecting them is fundamental for the success of education and for the well-being of our friend. Here they are:
• instructors or educators with a patent in order issued by one of the main trade associations (Fise, Csen, Apnee etc.);
• methods that do not allow physical or psychological violence against the dog, based on “positive reinforcement”;
• personalized educational path based on the needs of the dog and the owner but with collective classes, to encourage and expand the socialization of the dog;
• support in case of behavioral problems: the center must include an expert with specific training among its operators or collaborate with a veterinarian specialized in behavior.
5. What do you need to know?
– Little information but all essential
The basic education for a dog is not very extensive but there are things he absolutely must learn, for his own good and for ours.
The most important of all is to return immediately when we call him. The reasons are obvious: a good “recall” prevents the dog from putting himself in danger or creating problems for others.
The second thing is the ” leaves”, That is, opening your mouth if you have taken something that you should not have or, better still, avoid doing it by anticipating its action and blocking it.
This command, if well learned and associated with the call, becomes perfect to avoid any unwanted action of our friend, even if it has nothing to do with grabbing something.
The third command is the “close”, That is, a signal that indicates to our friend to stay at a very short distance from us, on a leash and without.
Very useful to prevent the dog from walking away and ending up where it shouldn’t, for example when we are walking in public places where not everyone likes any “parties” or “olfactory inspections”. It is also very important to teach the dog to walk properly on a leash, without pulling.
It is not nice to go for a trailer of a “tractor” (even small dogs are able to tow us, if they want) and, if it is true that the dog must have the opportunity to sniff when he is walking, since it is a an irrepressible natural need, it is also true that he can learn to investigate the territory easily and that, in some moments, for example by crossing the road, it is not possible to do so.
– Two useful but not fundamental accessory instructions
The “seated” and the “earth”, often taught first by some educators, are actually commands that have a relative importance and are not as difficult to “root” in the dog as mentioned so far.
They are useful positions to put the dog under control, for example on the street, if we meet someone (the “seated”), or if we want to stop and have a coffee (in this case, we need “earth”), so it is good to teach them but without thinking that a dog can maintain these positions for a long time, the “seated” in particular, without a path of habit that comes by itself over the years.
On the contrary, if basic education will be the necessary foundation for subsequent dog-sporting activities, such as Rally Obedience, Obedience or Agility, then these two commands become essential and must be correctly taught until a precise and lasting response from the dog is always obtained.
– First of all get your attention
To teach something, anything, to our dog, first of all we must learn to get his attention and then its concentration.
In fact, this is the first step in a basic education path. An educator up to the task knows this and provides accordingly. If this were not the case … better change “maestro”.