Congratulations! Your new best friend has found you and you're ready to provide your rescued canine companion with a fur-ever home. You have worked with your property manager to amend your lease, you have identified nearby opportunities for outdoor doggy exercise and jumped on the best dog advice websites to prepare you for the endless possibilities that come with dog ownership. Now what?
Now, it's time to be thinking about how to best help your new buddy adjust to apartment living. After all, you want your dog to feel comfortable, while also thinking about your neighbors. You don't want to have incessant barking or property damage. This article will explore 3 great training tips to help you both have an easy transition.
Times have changed in the dog training world. While it was once “common knowledge" to believe that dogs only respond to being dominated by their owners, the science of animal behaviorism has changed our understanding of dog learning. In fact, a reward is a very powerful tool in the professional dog trainer's arsenal, and it's one that all dog owners can learn to use.
At its most basic level, reward-based training follows this principle: Behavior that is rewarded will increase in frequency.
When your training methods focus on rewarding and reinforcing appropriate behaviors, what you'll find is that your dog comes to the table excited to learn that next great trick or the kinds of manners you want them to master. And, after they have learned correct behaviors, the occasional punishment for crossing the line is going to be much more effective.
One of the most effective reinforcement-based methods is clicker training. This method uses a small sound device to “mark" the exact behavior that you're rewarding. However, this technique also works with a simple vocal sound that you reserve just for training, as long as this sound is always followed by a reward.
Professional dog trainers tend to use small food items as rewards. This is because tiny bits of food can be quickly given without disrupting the flow of training sessions. Some dogs will even train eagerly for their own kibble given one piece at a time! However, other rewards you can use depend on what your dog loves. Some will gladly repeat behavior that's rewarded with pets and praise, a toss of a ball or a quick game of tug.
Whatever your dog loves, whether it's a treat or an activity, is an opportunity to reward great behavior. Simply becoming aware of what your dog likes and being careful to only allow it when your dog is behaving appropriately is a game-changer for many dog owners and their furry friends.
Crate training is a method of using positive reinforcement methods to help your dog associate their comfy crate with safety, pleasure and calm. When done right, it can even prevent the development of problematic and even unsafe behavioral issues, such as problem barking or destructive separation anxiety. In fact, since both conditions can result in having to rehome your dog, any preventative measure is worth exploring.
Crate training done right is a slow progression. It starts by making the crate comfortable, feeding and treating the dog in the crate with the door open, and rewarding when your dog chooses to go in the crate on her own. Many trainers recommend the use of a favorite peanut butter stuffed toy which can last for 20 minutes or more, reserved just for when your furry friend is in their crate.
After building up your dog's positive association with the crate, you can start closing the door and rewarding her, starting with just a few seconds at a time. With some practice you can start extending the time while you're home to supervise, making sure to only open the door when your dog is calm and relaxed (which means sometimes waiting out some tantrums in the short term).
Most dogs who are properly crate trained come to associate their crates with safety, security and calm states of being. Many will choose the crate for rest, even when they have other options. Dogs who have noise phobias, such as thunderstorm anxiety, often use their crate as a retreat when they're feeling unsafe. And, many who live in apartments find that crate training their dog allows them to leave home knowing their dog is safe, secure and calm in their absence.
It's almost instinctive to punish behaviors we don't like as a kind of “go-to" dog training. Some of this has to do with the way humans learn. For example, if a child violates some rule, the parent can use punishment to curb the behavior. However, with children, we can explain why they're losing their internet privileges for the night or are “grounded" for the weekend. Unfortunately, we can't explain to our dogs why they're being punished — and this turns out to be a critical difference between human and dog learning.
Instead, pro trainers first identify the problem behaviors they want to change. Second, they identify the triggers for those behaviors. Third, they train a new more appropriate behavior in response to that trigger, reinforcing it with reward, while ignoring the negative behavior. Finally, only after they have trained a positive behavior and deeply reinforced it, do they use punishment of the negative to “proof" the positive behavior they have trained.
This gives our dogs the benefit of learning what we do want them to do before punishing what we don't want. This kind of training inspires more trust from our canine companions which improves our bonds, as well as simply being more effective than punishment only training styles.
Here's what that looks like in practice:
Let's say Fluffy jumps and scratches at the front door every time another tenant is making any noise in the hallway outside the door. Obviously, this is not desirable behavior as eventually, it will damage the front door. So, the negative behavior is jumping at the door and the trigger is sound in the hallway.
The owner, in this case, has decided an alternative positive behavior is a quiet “down" a few feet from the door. So, with the help of a friend, and starting with just a little bit of noise outside of the door, the owner starts to “bribe" a down in response to the trigger with a food treat.
At first, the criteria for the reward is simply a one second down without barking, but over time, the owner and their helpful friend work towards more sounds and longer downs. In addition, the owner keeps up this reward scheme when the dog is randomly triggered by sounds outside of the door, making a huge deal out of rewarding Fluffy when she chooses this behavior on her own (extra treats and puppy party levels of praise).
Once Fluffy is giving the appropriate response most of the time when randomly triggered, it's time to consider “proofing" the behavior with some well-timed punishment. This might be as simple as a “time out" in her crate or another room for a few minutes or a stern “No!" Once the appropriate behavior has been trained and reinforced, the owner will find that punishment is more effective, will need to be employed less, and will need less intensity to be effective.