Training Your Westie
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Training your dog probably starts with a command as simple as ‘sit’. Here you show him how to sit by pushing his rump down to the ground. This is modeling. You then model the action and repeat the word ‘sit’. Thus an association is formed.
You lean over your dog as you push his rump down. The arch of your body is a form of targeting. You praise your dog getting his rump down as if he is doing it by himself. This is positive reinforcement. It motivates and encourages your dog to learn.
Then you repeat these steps of association, targeting, and reinforcement. You watch carefully to see whether your dog performs the action on his own without your physical intervention. If your dog sits on his own avoid touching him. Touch him only if the continuity of the motion falters. With repetitions your dog will soon perform the motion on his own.
As your dog gets closer to compliance you have to continue to reinforce each step. This will happen even if you have to help him in completing the command. This is reassuring and motivates your dog too. Your dog feels that all is well.
Gradually with a lot of patience on your part, your dog will complete the command just on hearing the word. Once this happens reinforce his success with enthusiasm.
Now you can start leaning over him lesser and lesser till you are standing absolutely straight. This will eliminate targeting. In your dog’s mind it is more difficult to respond to the word alone without physical cues.
However once he learns to respond to the verbal command, the learning curve will start to plateau. This is when your dog might refuse to obey. This is his way of saying that this is now a game and he would like to do something else. Now you as the leader have to make it clear to him that a command must be obeyed at all times. A refusal cannot be accepted.
This is when it is time to correct him. The correction can be in the form of a verbal ‘no’ to the jerk of the leash. Correction given immediately will reinforce the dog positively. Once this is clear repeat the command in different settings. So he gets the idea that he has to comply no matter where he is.
Then it is time for continual improvement and to tighten standards of performance. Now a sloppy performance will not be accepted. The command must be executed smartly and with precision. Later you can reduce positive reinforcement. Praise only when his performance is simply outstanding. At this stage constant reinforcement loses its significance. Praise when given should be unexpected and unique. End every training session on a positive note.
As the training progresses you will find that you synchronize better with your pet. He anticipates your actions and complies easier with them. This bonding that you develop is one of the many benefits that you reap from training.
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