Wundertraining part 4: basic training tips for your new rescue dog

Wunderdog’s very own columnist and dog trainer Luke Balsam has already given advice on how to prepare your home for your rescue dog’s arrival and how to get through the first 24 hours and the first few days, and not it’s time to get seriously serious with some (basic) training

It is really important to start getting in some basic training in now, because this will help you bond and start shaping your dog to cope with your routine. Plus, it’s great for stimulation and working the dog mentally. Depending on what is important for you and your dog, the training will differ, but below are some basics that everyone can benefit from.

Marker word

Teaching them a marker word is one important step. This is so your dog knows when they have done the right thing, and having a marker word means your training can be vastly more effective. For instance, if you marker word is “yes”, you ask the dog to sit, the moment their bum touches the ground, you say “yes” and then get your reward (food, toys, etc.) and give it to them. It gives you time between the dog getting it right and then presenting the reward; timing is everything in training. Some people use a clicker instead of a word.

Firstly, ensure you always say the word the same way, so your dog has an easier chance of recognising it. Secondly, whenever you say your marker word you must give the dog a reward (even if you mucked up and the dog didn’t do what you asked them to do). We want the marker word to be this amazing word that the dog lights up when hearing it. To charge this word up and get your dog understanding it, simply say the marker word (or click) and give your dog a tasty treat, try to deliver the food within two seconds of saying the word, but ensure it always comes after the word – not at the same time. If you do this enough times,  the marker word will become charged.

Goldie has heard her name (and she is allowed on the couch) (photographs: George Baxter)

Reflex to name

Getting your dog to make eye contact with you on saying their name is a great skill to teach. Start, like above, with saying their name and then just giving them some some tasty food. After doing this many times over a few days, as you say their name they will start whipping round to find you. When this happens you’re ready for the next stage.

Now, say their name, when they make eye contact with you say your marker word and then reward, so now we have taught the dog “name means find humans’s eyes”, which very important skill. Work on this first inside the house, then the garden, then outside, so they can do it around distractions.

Eye contact

Having a dog that wants to make eye contact with you opens up the communication and that means a dog that listens to you a lot better. Start by holding a tasty treat to the side of your eyes so your dog is looking at it. Sooner or later they will glance at your eyes and make contact, the moment this happens say your marker word and reward them. After a few times, try to hold back saying your marker word until they look at your eyes for a bit longer, then reward. Continue this, so they hold a stare at your eyes for an increasing amount of time. If you are having trouble with this, try making a kissing sound to start with.

Keep general words to a minimum. Just saying “Down”, “Off”, “No” doesn’t teach the dog anything. Instead, we need to train them to do what we want and then reward that.

This may also be a good time to bring a dog trainer in to help you through this settling in period. They will be able to guide you with any issues you are facing and ensure this transition is a successful one. Be careful though, there is no regulation in the dog training industry so ensure you go through organisations like the IMDT (Institute of Modern Dog Trainers) or the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers). There is no need to train with pain or fear, there are much better, kinder and more effective methods out there.

In the coming posts, we will be working more on eye contact in the contect of lead walking as well as recall training.

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