How to choose a training method? – Cambridge Puppy Training

training methods

I haven’t written an article for a while, I quite simply have been SO busy with adorable little pups I have had zero time. I do, however, love writing, so decided to crowbar in a small window to write about something I hope will be useful to all of you new puppy owners out there!

I’ve talked a lot in the past about the different ways to train, we have SO much choice. There are, of course, kind/fair/ethical ways to train, and there are aversive/fear-inducing ways to train. I will not touch on the training methods I don’t agree with here, there is no point. There is a wealth of information online and research is always being done to analyse and improve on training dogs, the many techniques, and how dogs learn generally. I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at some different training techniques, see exactly what they are, and see how on earth you can decide which one to choose for the particular behaviour you are training!

Often, the best place to start is by looking at what it is you’re trying to achieve in what you’re training. For example, you may like target training, but for some behaviours this wouldn’t be the best option for teaching a particular behaviour. Similarly, luring may not work for every single behaviour you want to teach. So, have a look at the behaviour you want to perfect with your puppy, and have a think about the best and most effective way to achieve it.

Let’s have a brief look at a few training methods:

Luring – hands-off and easy to do, simply holding food in front of the pups nose, and moving the food around to encourage the pup to follow into certain places and positions. Very easy for beginners, however care should be taken long term as a lure is incredibly difficult to phase out if you are not experienced at it or being shown how to. On the plus side, it’s simplicity means the puppy doesn’t really have to think about it, doesn’t need to problem-solve, it simply follows a treat.

Targeting – touching or ‘targeting’ a specific place/object, with a body part. Could be nose to hand, nose to target stick, paw to hand, paw to object, any kind of contact from a body part of the puppy, onto a place/object. Very easy to begin, however becomes more complex very quickly, and more tricky to phase out the target if used when teaching another more complex behaviour.

Shaping – rewarding tiny increments of a behavoiur until you have the finished behaviour you want. Not so easy for the handler/owner, takes precise timing on the humans part. Increases mental participation from the dog, the puppy really has to think about what is getting rewarded, and what isn’t! Perfect for clicker enthusiasts due to the precision a ‘click’ can provide.

Capturing – marking and rewarding a behaviour which is offered frequently, and is naturally-occuring. Easy for beginners if the behaviour is offered regularly, simply reward your puppy when you like what he does! Not so good for complex behaviours, relies on a behaviour being naturally-occuring.

There are other ways to teach, these are just the ones that are most commonly used.

So, which should you choose for the behaviours you want to teach? To ensure you pick the right one, there’s a few things to consider first:

  1. Does your puppy know how to learn in this way? – There is no point in starting to offer targets, or lures, if you haven’t shown your puppy how to do it. So, before starting to teach a new behaviour with a particular method, ensure your pup understands the rules of the game and has had a little practice in how to learn in the way you are attempting.

  2. How much experience has the puppy had in this method? – If your puppy isn’t very experienced in a certain method of training, it will take a little longer to teach a new behaviour and get the results you are aiming for.

  3. How quick does it need to be? – You may think luring is best, for example, as it seems quick and easy, but long term you may not get the precision of the behaviour you want. You may find the behaviour takes off quickly, but doesn’t maintain it’s accuracy once you start to phase a lure out for example, if you are not fluent in how to do this. You may find shaping, maintains a behaviour for longer. (Studies have shown a dog learning via problem solving and ‘thinking for himself’ learns not only more reliabily, but retains the information for longer).

  4. Does the dog need to reliably ‘think for himself’? – If you have never shaped or captured a behaviour before, your puppy will not be fluent in thinking for himself, offering new behaviours, or trying new things, to see what works. Luring may be quicker if your pup is used to being shown exactly what is wanted from the off. Long term, this may not be as effective however. You may need to clicker load if using a clicker, or partake in some free-shaping prior to shaping a complex behaviour, for example.

  5. How experienced are YOU? – If you feel you wouldn’t be able to tackle one particular method, have a go with another, weigh up the pros and cons of each method and see which would be best for the particular behaviour you want to teach. Remembering all the wihle, which would be most FUN for you and your puppy!!

There are many considerations to take into account when thinking about teaching a new behaviour, and I am a firm believer that no two puppies are the same, and indeed no two owners are. So, have a think, what are you teaching, and which method would not only work best, but which would be most enjoyable for you and your puppy, for that particular behaviour.

Happy training!!

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