What is training, exactly?
Intentional dog training means you teach your dog what you want to teach them because you’ve decided to teach it. It’s a matter of taking charge instead of letting things happen on their own.
But what IS training when it comes to your dog, exactly? Training is defined as “the act of teaching an animal a certain type of skill or behavior,” according to Google. If you have dogs, you probably want to teach them the skills and behaviors that will help them fit into your home better, help the two of you do an activity, or both.
Types of intentional dog training
When you want to teach your dog to sit, stay, or shake, you start step by step with a goal. For example, if you want to teach a dog to shake hands, you might try to get them to raise one paw and then reward the effort with a treat. That is basically using reinforcement training.
Some people punish for undesired behavior. They might spank a dog for going potty in the house. This is certainly training, although it usually doesn’t have the same long term positive effect as using positive reinforcement.
But there is another type of training, which you’re probably using. But do you know you’re doing it?
Unless you’re thinking about intentional dog training, you are probably training your dog without meaning to much of the time. You don’t get to turn off the teaching when you’re not actively ready to do it. If you’re with your dog, the chances are that you’re training.
Have you ever noticed that your dog watches you? They do. All the time. And they learn from everything whether it’s what you want them to learn or not. Do you know what you’re teaching your dog?
Our dogs pay attention to our every move. They know the routine for when they’re about to be fed. When you’re getting ready to go somewhere, they’ve probably already noticed the signs. And when you’re distracted on your phone, they realize pretty quickly that means they can get by with stuff.
When your dog recognizes your behavior, they learn what they are supposed to do when they see it. If they learn that ignoring you is ok when you’re distracted, they’ll do more of that. That’s probably not a lesson you want to train.
How do you use intentional dog training?
The most important thing you can do for your dog and their training is simply being aware of your dog. What are they doing? Are they watching you? Are you letting them get by with doing something that you don’t want them to do? While no one is perfect, the more you can start noticing and using those moments for teaching, the quicker your progress will be.
It takes concentration and effort, but it’s worth teaching the lessons you want to be teaching instead of those you don’t. Here are some things to try;
- Watch your dog for changes in behavior, which might be a sign that you’ve taught them something that you weren’t aware of.
- Try being purposefully consistent in how you work with your dog. Follow the same order of steps when feeding. Prepare for an activity in the same way, every time.
- Make a training session out of regular activities so that you’re intentionally teaching what you want your dog to learn.
Every time you’re with your dog, you’re teaching them something. So the more you’re aware of when you’re training them, the more you can use intentional dog training.
Does it get easier?
You’ll get used to watching for signs of developing issues and get to fixing them more quickly. Your dogs will also get used to you being aware of what they’re doing so they don’t ignore lessons you’ve already taught them. You’ll all be able to relax and enjoy each other more when you all know what to expect.
You can find tons of resources out there for training ideas and advice. One of the sources I like is Victoria Stilwell, who has a website and several books on the subject. Or my post, Dog training from a trainer’s perspective might be helpful.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with intentional dog training. Please leave a comment below.