The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Goldendoodles" by Erin Hotovy. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Erin HotovyGoldendoodles are intelligent dogs, which makes them easier to train than some other breeds. However, this does not mean that your Goldendoodle will magically understand your commands without a lot of training. The training process takes a lot of time and energy, but it is absolutely worth it when your dog follows your commands. Practice often, have patience, and before you know it, you’ll have an obedient dog.
When it comes to teaching your dog appropriate behaviors for your home, it’s good to have a clear set of expectations for your dog. You’ll also want your family in on the rules you set forth for your Goldendoodle so your pup can have some consistency in his training. For example, you’ll want to use the same cue words for the same command every time. If you want your dog to stop jumping up on you, but you use “down” and “off” interchangeably, your dog won’t know if he’s supposed to put four paws on the floor or get on his belly.
Or, your idea of a perfectly completed command might be different from your family members’. When you put your dog into the sit position, it is implied that your dog will hold that position until you give further direction. Therefore, if your dog gets up a second after sitting, the command has been broken. But, if another trainer in your home gives a reward if your dog’s bottom hits the floor, your dog may receive mixed signals about what he’s supposed to do when he hears “sit.”
For this reason, it’s great to have the whole family attend training classes. That way, everyone has the same understanding of the commands and how to give them. Goldendoodles are intelligent dogs, but they don’t have the ability to reason like humans do. If they’re exposed to inconsistency in their training, prepare to have inconsistent results.
Operant Conditioning Basics
Dog training is based around the psychological concept of operant conditioning. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a psych major to learn how to train a dog. When working with your Goldendoodle, it’s important to think like a dog. It’s easy to project our human learning processes on your furry friend, but it won’t help you understand why your dog does the things he does.
In short, operant conditioning uses a system of rewards to shape your dog’s behavior. When you teach your dog a trick, they don’t use logic or reason to understand it. Instead, they are merely conditioned to do the motion because they have learned that good things happen when they do what their owner commands them to do.
The reinforcements for the dog’s behavior can be positive or negative, though dogs respond better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement. When your dog does something you like, you give them some sort of reward for their behavior. Over time, this signals to your dog that their action is good, and that they should continue to do it. Eventually, you will no longer even need to give rewards for each successful command because your dog will be “programmed” to complete the task.
While each command requires different methods to teach it, all dog training follows the concept of operant conditioning. If you can put your dog into a desired position and give them a reward for doing so, you can teach your Goldendoodle almost anything. Repetition is key here, because your dog needs enough exposure to the command for it to stick in his brain.
Primary reinforcements are simply rewards that hold immediate value. Food, toys, and play are examples of primary reinforcements used in dog training. These rewards are given to your dog when they do something desirable. This lets them know that they did something right, and should continue to do so when prompted.
Food is perhaps the most enticing of all the primary reinforcements when it comes to dog training. Dogs can’t resist the smell of a special treat, and they will do just about anything to get it. The most effective dog treats are ones that are strongly scented and are small enough to give plenty of in one training session. Small, moist treats are easier to train with than big milkbones that take a while to eat. Some owners will even use small slices of hot dogs because it’s a special treat for a dog. All dogs have their own preferences when it comes to food. Some will gobble down just anything, while others are pickier. When selecting a training treat, find something that makes your dog lick his chops when you open the bag.
While most dogs are food-driven, some respond more to toys. If your dog is not strongly motivated by food, that doesn’t mean they can’t be trained. Instead, you have to come up with creative rewards for good behavior. If your dog ignores treats, but goes wild for a good squeaky toy, use that enthusiasm to your advantage. Sometimes this playful breed just wants to have a good time, and this natural playfulness should be used to your advantage.
For example, your dog may not come to you when you have a treat in your hand, but they’ll positively ambush you when you show them their favorite toy. In this situation, teach the command per usual, but hand over the toy when they successfully complete it. Then, they can have some quick playtime before they return the toy to you and you go back to training mode.
At the end of your training session, you want to give your dog some playtime to let them know that they’ve done a good job. Training shouldn’t last terribly long, and a little play helps release them from the work mindset. Dogs can get bored if you drill them with the same commands for too long, so some play will keep training fun and positive.
Primary reinforcements are rewards that are good in and of themselves. Secondary reinforcements are rewarding because there is some value attached to them. For dogs, praise and clickers are useful secondary reinforcements. These rewards don’t offer immediate payout like a tasty treat does, but they can be connected with primary reinforcements. Think of secondary reinforcements like currency for dogs—dogs have no use for the currency itself, but it yields the primary reinforcements that they love.
Praise is a reward that should be used constantly when training your dog. Goldendoodles are sensitive creatures and aim to please, so your love and affection lets them know that they’re doing a good job. Also, an affirmative voice marker, like “good” or “yes,” can even be used instead of a treat. To do this, you must start out by giving your dog a treat for good behavior, along with the affirmative marker. Over time, your dog will be conditioned to hear your affirmations and understand them as rewarding. Whenever your dog does something right, make them feel like they’re the best dog in the whole world. This will help them attach positive feelings to their training, and make them more likely to absorb new commands.
Clicker training is a similar concept that’s popular with dog owners. A clicker is a small, handheld device that emits a clicking sound when you press the button. When the sound is associated with treats or other primary rewards, your dog will hear the sound and accept it as a reward. The clicker also adds precision to your training. When you hand over a treat for a successful command, the time it takes between reaching toward your dog and your dog’s acceptance of the treat makes it hard to reward very specific actions. With the clicker, you can give them a reward in a split second. For example, if your dog is just learning how to sit and stay, you can reward your dog with the clicker when they manage to stay for a few seconds. When you try to hand over a treat, your dog may break their sit to reach for their snack.
If you don’t have a clicker, a voice marker (like “yes”) can work in its place. But a clicker can be an inexpensive training tool that will help reward your dog for good behavior. When using secondary reinforcements, remember to pair them with a primary reinforcement for maximum effectiveness. Otherwise, your dog will have a lot of “cash” that he doesn’t have any use for. When training, give rewards often, and make sure they are of high value to your pup.
Dangers of Negative Reinforcement
Negative reinforcement, or punishment, is part of operant conditioning, but it doesn’t mean that it should be used while training your dog. Goldendoodles are especially sensitive dogs, so anything upsetting may set your dog back in their training. Also, dogs respond to negativity with avoidance and you can’t always predict how they’re going to avoid negativity.
For instance, if your dog is being naughty, you may scold them and command them to your side. Then, you’ll probably take away whatever fun activity they were doing when you got angry. You may think that the scolding will deter them from the bad behavior, but instead, your dog may associate the come command with negativity. Then, when you’re working on recall, your dog will not want to come to you because he thinks he’ll be scolded. For this reason, it’s important to think like a dog, and predict their behavioral outcomes if you apply any sort of negative reinforcement.
In more severe cases, owners may swat or scream at their dog for unwanted behaviors. After a while, the dog will become afraid of the owner. In most cases, a fearful dog will not want to spend time around the owner, much less work on training, where there could be more punishments. Worst-case scenario, a dog could be so fearful that he snaps back and injures someone. There is often a fine line between punishment and abusive behavior that can result in worse behaviors from your dog. It’s best to keep training as positive as possible, and avoid all punishment whenever possible. The next chapter will discuss how to deal with unwanted behaviors in a manner that will not harm your dog.
Hiring a Trainer
Dog trainers are an invaluable resource, especially if you’re working with your first dog. A trainer will teach you how to train your dog and give you the skills you need to continue working with your Goldendoodle after the classes have concluded. Regular classes also provide owners with motivation to practice frequently with their dogs so they can come to the next lesson with mastered skills. Meanwhile, your Goldendoodle gets the opportunity to interact with new people and dogs. There are more benefits to hiring a professional trainer than just dog training.
There are different types of classes and trainers to choose from. Perhaps the most common type of professional training comes from a group course. These classes are broken down into different skill levels and training needs. These classes are generally small groups of dogs (and their humans) and meet regularly until the course is complete. Once you complete one class, you can choose to move onto the next one, which helps to keep up your rigorous training schedule.
Another option is to hire a personal dog trainer. This is useful if you have a schedule that makes it hard to attend regular classes, or you have a specific issue you want to work on. These trainers are more expensive than the fee you might pay for a group class, but it’s worth it if you have specific training needs you can’t meet in a traditional training class. Some dog trainers will even travel to your home to help diagnose issues in your Goldendoodle’s behavior, or work on your schedule for convenience. However, you’ll miss out on valuable socialization time, especially if your Goldendoodle is still a young pup.
One overlooked aspect of dog training is the owner’s behavior. Goldendoodles look to their owners for how to think and feel. So, if you’re calm and positive, they’ll be calm. If you’re frustrated or anxious, they’ll think they need to worry, too.
Dog training can be tough at times. There will be moments when your Goldendoodle just doesn’t want to cooperate. Or, there will be other distracting factors that will make it hard for your dog to concentrate on his training. Your dog will take no time at all to learn some commands, while others will take months of practice. Because dogs can be so unpredictable and difficult to get through to, you’re bound to feel frustrated at some point. However, it’s important to keep your emotions in check. If you find yourself getting frustrated while training, take a break and come back to it when you’ve relaxed. Your Goldendoodle needs a happy and positive environment to fully enjoy training. A dog that loves to learn new tricks is a pleasure to work with, as opposed to a dog that dreads training time and avoids it at all costs.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of dog training theory, you can apply these concepts to any command or behavior. It takes a little time to get to know your Goldendoodle, but before long, you’ll be able to think like a dog. When training your Goldendoodle, give your dog plenty of rewards so they’ll become conditioned to complete the commands. Food and toys are great rewards, but don’t forget to pair them with auditory markers that can be used when you’re all out of treats. Finally, don’t forget to use your resources. There are a lot of great dog trainers out there with a wealth of knowledge. The right resources and the right attitude will make dog training easy and fun.
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