In honor of February being Dog Training Education Month, founder, Wendy Crann and Director of Training – Northeast Ohio, Josh Allender, sat down with us to share some of the best practices and keystone components used by the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids “Step by Step” training program. These training tips have not only proved to be key to our standard when certifying our service dogs, but are sure to be beneficial for any furry friend or personal pet training as well.
Lisa, Josh, and Rodney work hands-on when it comes to dog training in the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids program
While it may be safe to say that the dog training world has as many “methods of training” as the health and wellness world has “diets you should be trying” – professionals can all agree on one thing. Whatever method you choose – be consistent. Here at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids we use a positive reinforcement training method.
“Positive reinforcement training is not only my job, it is my preferred training method,” says Josh Allender, Director of Training – Northeast Ohio. “With years of experience, I have discovered it to be training that everyone can do without foreseeable mistakes.”
The most important first step in learning this is understanding that you and your dog are in this as a team – you are the teacher and they are the student. Their success is entirely in your hands.
“You all know that the word ‘training’ means ‘teaching,’” says Wendy Crann, Founder of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids. “The most important first step in teaching anything to anybody is sharing a common language ... a way to communicate exactly what you want and need.”
Because dogs are animals of behavior and not language, at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids we say “talk less and DO more.” Standing in front of your new puppy saying “sit, sit, sit” twenty times doesn’t teach much of anything. Any puppy will eventually, naturally sit and THAT is the exact moment to say the word – while partnered with the dog’s behavior – to teach what the word “sit” will mean. Do that naming of what the puppy is naturally doing.
- Just catch him in the act, exactly at the moment of sitting (“sit”) or laying down (“down”) or walking next to you (“heel”), even when not on a leash.
- Praise him when he does these things and continue to name all the best behaviors you want your dog to do.
- After a few weeks you’ll have taught him the process of learning anything you want to teach him:
The “talk less” part of training is just that. Save your language for teaching the behaviors you want, not for conversations telling your pup how you love him, asking him if he’s hungry for dinner, or telling him “no” when he’s doing something you do not want him to do. And for unwanted behaviors like jumping up or whining, the opposite of reward is not punishment, it is the lack of your attention. Turn around or perhaps walk away. That is what we mean by “positive reinforcement.” Don’t give a “name” or physical attention to something you don’t want the dog to do. Dogs figure out pretty quickly what behavior they are doing that isn’t getting them what they want.
“Do less talking without a connection to behavior,” says Wendy. “Just love him, pet him, rub his belly, and scratch his ears. He’ll know that being with you is the best place in the world to be without you ever saying a word!”
A scratch on the head and a verbal “sit” is a great example of positive reinforcement
After you’ve named the behaviors you want your dog to learn by a word command you have chosen. Then, with that in mind, there are three key traits one needs regardless of your personal training technique:
1. Timing : Timing is when you name, reward, or correct any behavior. Timing is crucial in getting your dog to understand what you are trying to communicate to them. If your timing is off, you may be reinforcing an unwanted behavior. And for unwanted behaviors, remember, it is the lack of your attention that teaches the most.
2. Consistency: Responding the same way every time your dog performs a wanted or unwanted behavior. Consistency combined with timing will ultimately determine if your dog will comprehend what you are trying to teach them, as well as how fast they will learn the desired behavior.
3. Patience: Knowing it takes consistency and timing to train your dog, it will be much easier for you to understand how well you adhere to those two challenges will determine how much time and patience itself you must be willing to invest. If you ever lose patience, you may get frustrated and change your voice from calm to a harsh tone, or displaying a tense body language. This will set your dog up for confusion and failure. Josh strongly recommends ceasing your training session should you become frustrated. Just save training for a time when your own behavior is calm, cool and collected.
If you would like to train your dog the same way we train our service dogs at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, you can purchase and download your copy of the “Step By Step: The W.A.G.S. Service Dog Training Academy” book written by Wendy Crann with assistance from GCI Trainer Justin Schaeffer, available on our website. This manual features the same curriculum used by our inmate trainers for our service dogs, but has also been used by individuals in training their dog to produce wonderful results over and over again.
Our “Step By Step: The W.A.G.S. Service Dog Training Academy” book
Remember, our dog's behavior is a reflection of what we choose to teach and ignore. If you are starting with a puppy or older dog, unwanted behaviors are not your fault, however they are your problem. A dog’s future behavior lies solely on you. This holds true with well trained dogs as well. Enjoy finding how your already good dog can be even better, and happy training!
About W.A.G.S. 4 Kids:
Our service dogs in training are housed in Grafton Correctional Institution and Mansfield Correctional Institution and trained by the inmate trainers in our Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction-accredited Step By Step Service Dog Training Program. This program was developed by W.A.G.S. 4 Kids founder and animal trainer Wendy Crann, and is implemented by our staff trainers: Lisa Schultz, Director of Program Operations; Josh Allender, Director of Training – Northeast Ohio; and Rodney Houghton, Director of Training – Central Ohio. Learn more at: www.wags4kids.org .