Training a Bernedoodle – The Struggle is Real

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Bernedoodles" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

Luckily for Bernedoodle owners, Bernedoodles are smart dogs, so training this breed should be a breeze! Depending on where your new dog is in life, this training stage will vary. An adult Bernedoodle from a shelter will likely already know a few tricks, so training will consist of building on prior knowledge or correcting bad habits. Training a young puppy will require an introduction to the basics, but will be like working with a fresh canvas. Remember that a Bernedoodle’s mental maturation takes a little longer than other breeds, so practice is key. Once its brain develops more, it’ll start picking things up more quickly.

Regardless of where your dog is in the training process or what commands you plan to teach your pup, the basics are the same. Training should always be relaxed and positive. Negativity and punishments will only upset your Bernedoodle and can jeopardize your training. Dogs don’t have memories that function in the same was as humans do, so when trying to understand your dog’s thought processes, think like a dog! Your Bernedoodle is just looking to please you, so show it that you appreciate its hard work.

Bernedoodle Training 101

Depending on your plan for dog training, there might be several people involved in teaching your Bernedoodle new commands. Family members, roommates, and dog trainers may all spend time working with your dog. When multiple people are involved, there needs to be consistency.

Berendoodle appleGiving a dog a command works because it learns to associate a certain action with a specific word, not because it understands human language. For example, if you use the command “stop” when you want your dog to put down your personal belongings, but your partner uses “no” and your trainer uses “drop it”, then your dog will probably become confused. A human child can understand that those words roughly mean the same thing, but a young pup can’t make the connection. Once your dog becomes more experienced, it may be able to understand similar commands, but at first, it probably won’t.

That’s why it’s necessary to communicate with everyone who will have a hand in training and raising your dog. Decide on which commands you’ll be using, so there won’t be any mix-ups. You may also decide on which commands you’ll be focusing on to start. Having a roommate teach your Bernedoodle how to roll over can be a fun trick, but not necessarily helpful when you’re just trying to get it leash trained.

While communicating training expectations, decide which behaviors you will and won’t allow in your household. Your dog may get confused if one owner is rewarding it with praise for jumping on the couch, while the other owner discourages it. These expectations are best discussed before your dog even comes home so you can start out without any confusion.

When everyone knows what’s going on in your dog’s training routine, they can work as a team. This way, you’ll be working at maximum efficiency and no one will be negating anyone else’s efforts. The lack of confusion will keep your dog stress-free and confident, which in turn will make it more eager to learn new commands.

Operant Conditioning Basics

Perhaps one of the most common techniques used for teaching dogs is operant conditioning. This term refers to B. F. Skinner’s theory of how humans and animals respond to consequences of our behavior. The theory of operant conditioning is based on the voluntary choices we make in response to our surroundings. Instead of reacting to a stimulus, this theory is about displaying a certain behavior first, and discovering the consequences, good or bad.

Berendoodle on floor lyingIn life, we face consequences for our behavior, especially as children. When a child receives a gold star from a teacher for doing well in school, it’s seen as a reward for hard work. After enough gold stars, the child might continue to strive to achieve good grades, even if the rewards aren’t still forthcoming. The child will associate good grades with the pride of receiving a positive response and connect the two in future work.

This applies to negative outcomes as well. Suppose the child failed an assignment. The teacher shows disapproval by not handing out a gold star, but also by assigning a punishment, like having to miss recess. After enough missed recesses, the child will learn to associate bad grades with feeling left out or deprived.

Skinner believed that by creating positive and negative outcomes for behavior, any behavioral trait could be modified using this system. Animals, like rats, were tested in such experiments by placing them in a box with no outside distractions. If the rats pressed one lever, they would be rewarded with a treat. If they pressed the other lever, they would be punished with a shock. Scientists found that the rats would eventually learn through the series of treats and shocks which lever to press and which one to avoid.

These conditioning theories are still used in dog training today. When training dogs, we wait for them to act. If we like how they behave, they receive a treat. They learn to associate certain behaviors with the rewards until the behavior becomes hardwired into their brains. It is also possible to train animals with punishments, but it has adverse effects on your pet and should be avoided.

Operant conditioning can also be used alongside classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is when a stimulus produces a result. The most well-known example of this was Pavlov’s dog experiment. In this experiment, he fed dogs while ringing a bell. The food caused the dogs to salivate, but eventually, it only took the sound of the bell to cause salivation. The reaction to the stimulus is subconscious and involuntary. Both operant and classical training will cause a dog to learn commands, but one causes a purposeful reaction and the other causes an involuntary habitual reaction.

Primary Reinforcements

Once your dog has displayed the desired behavior, it needs to be rewarded. Rewards are a type of positive reinforcement. Primary reinforcements are rewards that have value in and of themselves. For dogs, the biggest primary reinforcements are food and play time.

Berendoodle in bedPrimary reinforcements don’t need to be given every time the dog completes a task. Frequent rewards are good at first, because it helps your dog make a connection between your command and its behavior. Once it gets the hang of it, you can space your rewards out a little more.

In psychology, this is known as reinforcement schedules. If your dog knows the command, it won’t stop doing it, just because it didn’t get a dog treat one time. It will continue to do what you tell it to because it knows that one of the times it sits, it’ll get a reward. It’s random and unpredictable, but it still believes the good behavior will lead to a reward at some point.

Some trainers believe that using these types of reinforcement schedules are more effective than giving your dog a treat every time it performs. Think of this method as a slot machine—people become addicted to pulling the lever even though they don’t get a reward every time. However, they believe that if they pull the lever enough times, it will pay out in a big way. This same theory applies to dogs as well. They’ll keep performing the task with hopes that it will pay off.

Most pet owners will find that they can get their Bernedoodle to do just about anything for a tasty treat. These are a staple for training a new dog. When your dog receives a treat, its brain sends signals that makes it feel good. Since it is happy, it will associate whatever action that lead to the treat as a good thing to do.

Try to keep in mind how many dog treats your dog is eating over a training session. Your dog’s nutrition comes from its daily meals, and its daily caloric intake is factored into that. Too many treats over a long period of time can cause weight gain, because your Bernedoodle is ingesting more calories than it requires.

This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t get treats every now and again, but make sure not to overdo it. Instead of giving your dog a full biscuit every time it sits down, break one up into several small pieces, or use tiny treats. People food is generally not good for dogs, but some owners like to use fruits and vegetables for healthy training treats. Foods like berries, leafy greens and steamed sweet potatoes are full of nutrients and low in calories. Before feeding your dog anything that isn’t manufactured specifically for pups, check with a vet to make sure that your dog will be able to digest it without any adverse effects.

Play time is also another reward that dogs love. This is a good reward for learning new skills like potty training. If your Bernedoodle manages to make it to the bathroom spot in the yard without any accidents, this deserves a reward. Instead of loading it up with more food, you can take it on a walk or throw a toy around.

This reward is also good to use on a random schedule because going on a walk after every potty break might be excessive, especially in small pups that go often. You can even alternate between tasty treats and play time for rewards. Your dog will be happy and it might even keep it from meandering around the yard when you let it out, because it knows that it will still have some time to play outside once it’s finished.

Secondary Reinforcements

Secondary reinforcements are rewards that are associated with value, but don’t necessarily have value in themselves. For example, humans are highly motivated by money. Money is just fancy paper, but humans have given it value. We can use the secondary reinforcement to trade it in for what we really want.

Berendoodle run in snowFor dogs, this concept is a little trickier. But, there are some ways of rewarding dogs that don’t necessarily have any intrinsic value. For instance, a pat on the head signals to your dog that it is loved. It knows this because when you pet and cuddle it, it can sense from your body language that you love it. It’s safe to say that negative emotions won’t get caught up in this, because people are less inclined to give their dog a belly rub after realizing that their dog destroyed their pillows. The words “good dog” and a pat on the head are connected to something it values: love.

That is why affection is a good motivator. Bernedoodles are sensitive dogs that aim to please. When you show them that you’re happy with them in a language they can understand, they respond positively. This type of reward works well with this breed once they understand that praise means that their human is happy.

Another form of secondary reinforcement is clicker training. A clicker is a small device that emits a clicking sound whenever the button is pressed. The clicker in itself is not a reward, until the sound of the click is associated with a primary reinforcement, like a treat.

To begin clicker training your dog, you must teach it that the click signals a reward, like a dog treat. Once it understands that the sound of the click is linked to tasty dog treats, the click becomes the reward. Enough clicks can be “traded in” for another treat in the future.

One benefit of clicker training is that it is a precise way to communicate your idea of good behavior to your dog. For example, if by chance, your dog is calm when the doorbell rings instead of going wild, you can point out and reward its behavior in one short click. If the dog makes it outside before going to the bathroom, this gets a click.

Sometimes, giving a treat can be an imprecise reward system. If you’re in the beginning stages of training and you command your dog to stay, it may only be able to remain motionless for a few seconds. If it gets up, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t perform the task at all, but giving a treat after it didn’t entirely follow your command might send mixed signals.

With the clicker, you can give a click the moment you observe correct behavior because the reward can be delivered instantly. Once the training session is over, the dog can receive more rewards in exchange for clicks.

Clicker training has become popular with dog trainers because it is efficient at pointing out good behavior immediately. It also reduces the need for lots of dog treats, which may cause weight gain if used too frequently. The clicker approach is beneficial for owners who plan on doing a lot of training with their dog.

The Dangers of Punishment

In operant conditioning, punishment is the opposite of reward. There are two types: positive punishment and negative reward. A positive punishment is something we receive as a consequence for our actions. For example, a child receives a spanking for misbehaving. The child misbehaved, so in response, he or she received something that they did not want.

A negative reward is the removal of something that we do want. If a child misbehaves, the parent might take away television privileges. The parent will withhold something the child wants instead of giving something the child doesn’t want.

With dogs, the type of “punishment” they receive matters. If your dog is constantly barking at your front window, this isn’t a behavior that deserves to be rewarded. It may enjoy looking out the window at everyone who walks by, but its constant barking is annoying. In response, you may decide to put it in a less fascinating room without windows until it calms down.  In operant conditioning, this would be regarded as a punishment because you’re withholding something the dog wants because of bad behavior.

However, this is much different than positive punishment. Common forms of positive punishment involve pain, like swatting or spanking, or fear, like screaming and yelling. Punishment does change behaviors, but not always in the way that you want.

For example, someone might catch their Bernedoodle digging a hole into the leather sofa. In anger, they lash out at the dog and hit it to teach it a lesson. The highly sensitive Bernedoodle will become upset. It may even fear its owners and will avoid them whenever they are near. The stressed out Bernedoodle is then less likely to learn new commands because it’s afraid its owner is going to hurt it again.

Berendoodle puppyAlso, it may decide that its owners were angry because they caught it destroying something. With this new fear of getting caught again, it may hide when it feels like being destructive.

Punishments will likely change your dog’s behavior in one way or another, but at risk to its safety and the safety of others. As discussed in the socialization chapter, fearful, anxious dogs are more likely to lash out at others for protection. The stress hormones are not good for the dog and fear leads to aggression. For this reason, punishment should be avoided at all costs.

This is not to say that dogs should be allowed to display bad behavior in front of you. However, a deterrent or distraction is much more effective than a punishment. Try to get your dog’s attention without being overly forceful. Your Bernedoodle can probably tell the difference between a shout and a firm command. Some sounds, like clapping one’s hands or shaking a jar full of rocks might be enough to grab its attention. You can even give a firm, but kind, “no” or “hey”. This should get its attention so you can correct its behavior.

It is also important to remember that your dog cannot be corrected unless you are witnessing the behavior. A dog will not remember something it did a half hour ago, so it won’t be able to comprehend being scolded for it. Showing it the mess it made won’t jog its memory, either. You may think that it is showing signs of feeling ashamed when you return home to a mess, but it’s more likely that it senses your anger and is scared.

Dog training is tough work and it can be easy to lose your cool when you’re trying to teach your dog how to behave in the home. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, take a step back and try again later. Training should be a fun and exciting time for both you and your dog. Dog training is all about forming the right connections in your dog’s mind, so making it feel happy and confident will only make your job easier.

Professional Dog Training

Dog training is a lot of hard work, so don’t feel like you have to go through it alone. Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience working with dogs, working with a trainer can be extremely helpful. A good trainer is also invaluable when working with a dog that has behavioral problems that are too much for you to handle alone.

The first step is to find a good dog trainer. This is not a profession that requires any certain degrees or qualifications, so you’ll want to do your research. The prospective trainer should be happy to talk to you and share his or her qualifications. It’s important to find a trainer that you get along with because you’ll be spending time together and trusting them to cater to your dog’s needs.

Some trainers use controversial training techniques that may not be best for your dog’s wellbeing. Ask them about the methods they use when they train. You’ll want to make sure they stress the importance of positive training techniques. Anything having to do with pack dominance, yelling, or getting physical with your dog should send up red flags for you.

Next, choose what kind of class you want to enroll in. Trainers often offer private classes, group classes, and training where the owner is not present. Choose the type that best fits in with your lifestyle and schedule. Group classes can be highly beneficial because they add in the socialization aspect. For dogs that don’t have a lot of experience around other dogs or people, this is a great way to make them feel more comfortable around others in a safe setting.

Finally, check if your trainer offers different classes for different stages of life. Puppies may require different techniques and concentrations as opposed to adult dogs. You’ll also want to enroll your new dog in a class for beginners so you won’t get frustrated by having to learn advanced commands before mastering the basics.

Once you find a trainer that you’re interested in, ask for client referrals.  A reputable dog trainer should be happy to give you all the information you need. Ask past or current clients if they enjoy their training sessions and if their dogs are getting something out of it. A vet or breeder is also a good source of information when it comes to finding the right trainer.

Dog training can be a fun way to spend time with your new Bernedoodle. Once your dog learns a few commands, it will be happier and more entertained because it needs to feel like it has a specific job to do. A physically and mentally stimulated Bernedoodle is less likely to get itself into boredom-related trouble. Dog training takes a lot of time and effort, but the end result is a happy pup and a happy owner.

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