When I start a new dog on basic commands I am laying the groundwork for everything it will learn in the future. It is a valuable, if not exciting, part of a process.
Basic commands in obedience are similar to the compulsories in figure skating; if you're not good in your compulsory or foundation skills, you'll never excel in freestyle.
And because I train my own dogs for competition as well as want them to be well-behaved pets, I set goals for each lesson.
I teach in short, rewarding sessions, avoid patterned or monotonous repetition and because I expect it in return, give the dog my undivided attention. I don't ask for perfection or precision in the beginning, just a good effort on the dog's part.
We send our children to school for 12 years with ascension based on previously acquired knowledge, but many people expect a dog to be trained and done with learning by the time it's 2 years of age. Even based on the dog's age/human years comparison ratio that's not realistic, and just nonsensical thinking.
It's also food for thought that many of the highest scoring and most consistent dogs in all venues of competition are between the ages of 4 and 8 years.
Training a dog successfully means having a dog that looks forward to its training sessions as time it spends with you. Releasing a dog to play as a reward after a training session can send the wrong message by indicating that playtime is more fun than training.
Praise, play and an unscheduled treat-delivery schedule should be incorporated into the training session to keep a dog focused, enjoying himself and fueled with a desire to work. The end of a training session, however, should be low-key, indicating that when the training lesson with you ends, so does the fun.
I think that the best-trained dogs are ones that have learned how to problem solve. They are a partner in the training process and rewarded for using their brains. Once a dog understands a command, it's time to stop repeating it or helping him do it. A dog that has been taught that learning is a game he plays with you, with rewards earned for selecting the correct behavior, will show effort and perseverance in his training.
And the best part of allowing your dog to use his mind is that wrong choices become valuable. If the dog finds that choosing incorrectly causes you to block that choice and then patiently wait for him to try something else, it can be more productive than repeating a verbal command over and over or simply pushing him into position.
Since dogs are more likely to repeat behaviors that they find rewarding, allowing your dog to think for himself and encouraging any effort in the right direction will go a long way to achieving success.
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at email@example.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.