Recently I came across an interesting article about teaching dogs sign language. I was intrigued by the concept, and I decided to give it a shot with my own dogs. I purchased a book written by the creator of K9Sign. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, if I want to successfully teach my dogs to sign, but one of the first things that I’ve got to work on is my understanding of how dogs learn.
With a little research, I learned that technical term for the type of learning that dogs engage in is Operant Conditioning. Basically it means that the desired behavior or action becomes more frequent when it is rewarded with positive reinforcement, like getting a treat or receiving praise. If you want to be successful in training your dog there are several key things to remember.
In a previous blog I covered the benefits of consistency and making training a fun activity for your pet. Though they may seem like they do at times, dogs don’t understand English. It’s the consistency of commands and they way that they’re delivered that is vital to the learning process. Keep your commands simple, short, and consistent! Keep training sessions fun! They can be something that both you and your dogs look forward to, and if you’re both excited about the activity it will be more successful and rewarding in the long run.
Repetition is also very important in dog training. Your dog probably won’t learn a trick or behavior in one short session. You must continue to reinforce the training every chance you get, and in every environment possible before you can expect it to be a reliably learned behavior.
One of the challenges I am trying to overcome is removing the word “no” from my vocabulary during training sessions. Some trainers suggest that you use the sound “na” instead because it is more of a positive sound. You don’t want to discourage your dog from trying with harsh words or sounds, but you do want to communicate that they aren’t offering the behavior you’re looking for.
A great tool to use while training your dog is a clicker. This simple tool teaches the dog to associate target behaviors with a quick and uniform “click” noise; you mark the correct behavior the moment it occurs. I had never used one before, but I purchased one to see if it really worked. I’ve already noticed a marked improvement in the speed at which the learning happens while I am using the clicker. If you click the moment that, for instance, the dog sits down after being asked to ‘sit,’ there is no confusion over what ‘sit’ means.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my adventures into K9Sign Language. First, we’ve got to “bone up” on our basic obedience commands and make sure they’re rock solid before we move on to more complicated tasks. Happy training everyone!