The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Bloodhounds" by Kevin Stueber. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Kevin Stueber
Start Young and Remain Confident
In previous chapters, we discussed Bloodhound behaviors and shared some tips and tricks for training them. This chapter will go more into training your dog and offer you insights into how and why certain training techniques work. Up until this point, we’ve focused on reinforcing behavior through praise and rewards, and we will dive a bit deeper into that in the following pages. Of course, if you got your dog as a puppy, you’ll have plenty of time to groom and train them to become the best pup they can be. These techniques are also useful if you have an older dog as it will help you understand the psychology behind what your dog is thinking when you are teaching them.
But the main thing to remember is to stay confident. You have established yourself as the Alpha and now you must maintain that position so your hound doesn’t try to take over. As your Bloodhound gets bigger, they will start to become aware of their own strength, and will challenge the social structure from time to time. Don’t let them push you around, intimidate you, or tire you out. Stay confident and consistent and maintain your spot as their leader. If your Bloodhound senses any slack or leniency for their behaviors, they will muscle their way through and those minor inconveniences could turn into huge problems. So, stock up on some treats, practice that stern voice, and get ready to practice some canine psychology.
Pavlov and You – How Operant Conditioning Works
When it comes to household training, you have to understand the foundations of a few psychological principles if you wish to have success with your pup. I won’t go into too much detail, as I don’t want this bringing back nightmares of college lectures, but we will touch on the basic principles of conditioning.
Most people have probably heard of Pavlov and his experiments with dogs. Pavlov found that he could get a dog to salivate simply by ringing a bell through what is now known as classical conditioning. To do this, Pavlov would introduce a treat so that the dogs would start salivating, and then he would ring a bell. Over time and through continuous exposure to these stimuli, the dogs would unconsciously start salivating merely at the sound of the bell. The treat would not have to even be present, as the autonomic response was conditioned so that the auditory sound of the bell would cause salivation. From this, people were able to deduce that behavior could be manipulated by the introduction of outside stimuli. This led to its implication in shaping and molding desirable behaviors through reinforcement and punishment.
The difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which is what we will discuss next, is the nature of the response generated through the introduced stimuli. Classical conditioning elicits an unconscious response, whereas operant conditioning brings on a conscious and motivated decision to do something. This may all seem complicated, but the odds are you already employ aspects of operant conditioning in other parts of your life, so now we just need to focus them on training your Bloodhound.
In operant conditioning, there are a few key terms we need to establish to fully lay the groundwork for what’s to come. Operant conditioning sets out to train a response based on reinforcement or punishment. Reinforcement means that we want the behavior to increase or become the norm. Punishment means we want the behavior to decrease. With both items, there is a positive way of doing things and a negative way. This is not a qualifier on how effective they are, but rather what it means is that positive conditioning adds something to the environment, and negative takes something away.
An easy way to understand this is by looking at how we teach children to do things. Let’s imagine a teenager who is in school. If they come home with good grades on their report cards, parents will celebrate this and give them praise and maybe take them out for ice cream as a job well done. This is positive reinforcement. The praise and ice cream are being introduced to encourage the child to continue getting good grades. On the other hand, if the report card comes back with bad grades, the parents will potentially take away something from the child like a toy or TV. This is a negative punishment. The toy is being taken away from their environment in hopes of decreasing the behavior of getting bad grades.
Sometimes the terminology of positive and negative conditioning can be confusing because we naturally think of negative as bad and positive as good. In this sense, try to think of the words in math terms. One is adding and the other is taking away. Most commonly, we will hear the term positive reinforcement being used in encouraging behavior, but negative reinforcement and positive punishment can be used just as effectively.
An example of these would be to think about a dog that has a pinch or choke collar on. As the dog is out on a walk, they may start pulling on their lead, causing the collar to pinch or inflict pain. That is positive punishment. A stimulus, the pain, is introduced in hopes of decreasing the behavior of pulling. At the same time, when the dog relaxes and stops pulling, the pain goes away. That is an example of negative reinforcement. A stimulus, the pain, is taken away to encourage the behavior of relaxing and not pulling. More than likely, you will use a combination of these techniques when training your hound. Now that you know what they are, you can put them in your training toolbox and choose the appropriate one for different situations.
Reinforcement and Your Bloodhound’s Fragile Psyche
Throughout this book, I have focused heavily on the use of positive reinforcement in training your Bloodhound. I will stick by this as being the most effective way to get your hound to behave. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, and maintaining a positive attitude is not always realistic. At times, frustration will get the best of you and punishing your dog will seem like your only remaining option. I am by no means an advocate of animal abuse, but some of the cliché punishments like rubbing their nose in their pee or swatting them with a rolled up newspaper will probably seem tempting from time to time.
While those punishments may seem perfectly acceptable and well deserved when you are at your wits’ end, from my experience, they just don’t have the impact you would hope. I tried everything with my hound, and potty training proved to be one of our biggest obstacles. He could hold it and demonstrated that by not using his crate as a bathroom when he was locked in it at night. But once I gave him the freedom to roam about freely at night, he started lifting his leg on everything. After many mornings of stepping in puddles of pee or busting out the carpet cleaner to treat the carpets, I finally started doing some research and seeing what I was doing wrong. I would get mad at my hound for peeing on the floor. I’d put him outside and not let him come in for a while. I thought I was punishing him, when in reality, I was reinforcing his behavior. I thought I was discouraging the peeing by taking away his ability to be inside with me. But to him, I was rewarding him by letting him go outside and play and smell all the things in the outside world. Yelling at him in the morning when I found the pee didn’t work either, because the behavior had already come and gone. When I was yelling, I wasn’t punishing the peeing behavior, but whatever it was he was doing right then.
So again, consistency and supervision are key. Your punishments, and more importantly reinforcements, need to be timely. They need to accompany the behavior you wish to change, or else your hound will become confused and you may end up affecting a behavior you didn’t mean to.
Focusing on Rewards for Good Behavior, Not Punishment for Bad Behavior
Over time and through a lot of trial and error, I realized that Bloodhounds are actually very sensitive creatures. Their disposition in this regard should play heavily in how you decide to train them. I mentioned that Bloodhounds have a fragile psyche, and that will lead them to get discouraged if your training regimen isn’t consistent with their needs. Their sensitivity and constant desire to please can cause them to lose focus on what they are trying to learn if you punish them when they really just need reinforcement. For instance, if you are training your dog to track a scent or find a person that hiding, it’s best to ignore their mistakes and redirect their attention than to punish them. If they are punished or scolded, they will start focusing on behavior that earns your affection back, rather than the task at hand.
When it comes down to it, Bloodhounds just want to be loved. When you punish them, they may lose track of what they are doing in a desperate attempt to win you over again. Because of this, I found it most effective to use positive reinforcement with my dog and to reward him with affection. Some dogs are food motivated and that works great in training, but you want to eventually have them obey without needing to carry a pocketful of treats around with you. When they do the right thing, be over the top and happy about it. Use an affectionate tone and pet and rub them in their favorite spot. Tell them loudly what a good dog they are.
When I first started this, it felt unnatural and fake in how over the top I was being with my dog. I’d find pee in the house, and rather than getting mad, I’d take him outside and pretend like I was lifting my leg on things in the backyard. When he’d go over and follow suit, I would boisterously tell him what a good dog he was. I’d pet him and rub his favorite spot on his chest and smile at him. I repeated this over the course of a few days, multiple times a day. By the end of it, he was going outside and lifting his leg even if he didn’t have to pee, just to get my attention and get the love. Obviously, he had been positively conditioned to know that when he lifts his leg, he got attention. Over time, it took less and less reinforcement to get him to go where he was expected to. But even after the behavior is established, it’s good to continue to reinforce it so that the bad behaviors don’t rear their ugly head.
Are Training Classes Right for You and Your Bloodhound?
Even with all the praise and punishment and treats and scolding, sometimes it’s time to admit that you and your dog need help. Don’t view this as a bad thing if you need to enlist the assistance of a professional dog trainer. There are a lot of options out there to help you and your dog get to a place where you can live with and trust each other completely. There are, of course, expensive puppy training classes you can enroll your hound in where they will go to a facility and be conditioned by professionals. This can be extremely useful if you don’t have the time or energy to put into fully training your dog. The biggest issue I have with having someone else train your dog is that the most crucial part of your dog’s training is having them obey you. You need to build up the trust and assert yourself as their leader for you to truly be in control of them and their behavior. After all, you are going to want to make sure that you have your Bloodhound in control or else you or someone you know may end up getting hurt.
That’s why I recommend taking classes where you are involved with the professional trainer. Find a place where they will teach you how to train your pup, rather than some stranger doing it for you. This will build your own abilities, help get your dog’s behaviors in check, and will also build the relationship and trust between you and your dog. If you haven’t noticed, being confident and consistent has been a theme throughout this book. Those attributes will be undeniable in their importance of building and maintaining a happy and healthy life for you and your hound. In the end, your Bloodhound will love and respect you for teaching them to be the lovable slobber monsters they were destined to be.
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