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Four Stages of Dog Training



Training dogs can sometimes be a frustrating endeavor. If you can break down the sequences of what to do first, second, third and so on, the process will make more sense. There are 4 basic stages of getting a dog trained. They are the teaching, enforcing, transitional and proofing stages.

Teaching is always the first thing you do.   In teaching, you help the dog learn what motion goes with what cue.  For example when you command “sit” and move the food over the dog’s head and he naturally sits, then the food goes in his mouth, then he makes an association. When his butt hits the ground the treat is applied. Or when he is lured into a “down” and the food appears in his mouth when he goes down. In this way, he starts to associate a specific movement with a food reward and praise. So you are teaching him that a specific word and hand signal go with a specific motion. In the teaching phase almost all training will be positive. This usually goes really fast. Most dogs or pups can get the idea in 15 or 20 minutes. This does not mean he knows it well. Once the dog understands the cues, you should practice a few minutes a few times a day. Puppies need to mature a little before moving to the next step. Usually around 6 month old they are ready for the next phase. Depending on how thorough you were with the teaching phase will determine his attitude and success in the enforcing phase.

The enforcing phase is where you start to enforce the commands.  Because the dog has been mostly taught with positive methods he will be sharp and eager to perform when your pocket is full of treats and there are not any distractions. Once you add something more enticing than food, your dog’s attention will no longer be on you. Maybe he would rather stay outside and mill around or he wants to see the neighborhood; you name it.  In order for you to control you dog’s behavior you will have to put him on a leash so you can control his actions. This phase also goes very quickly. It is also known as basic training or on-leash training.

The transitional stage is the time you start to wean your dog from the training equipment. It is the most time-consuming stage and takes relatively skilled responses from the handler. Dogs are far from puppets and have a mind of their own. They will think because the handler has no physical control over them that they can take a few self-rewarding liberties. This is where you score big points by not permitting their wishes. The techniques and methods you use will determine how fast this is accomplished, in a few weeks or a few years.

The last phase is the proofing stage.  This is the phase where the dog is to obey without a leash in the midst of all kinds of distractions. However this is the most common phase used when people train their dogs! They skip the first 3 phases and jump right in to the advanced training. What I mean by this is that people repeat commands over and over without any response from the dog. They try to get their dog to obey off leash first. This is known as putting the horse before the cart. It is building the roof before the foundation. The resulting disobedience is just because a dog needs phases one, two and three in the process of training.

Once a dog is proofed he must be maintained. There is no way a highly trained dog will stay that way if he is put on a shelf. Dogs that are trained to work are always being maintained in some fashion. The best way to maintain this level of training in your pet is to incorporate it into your life style. It is easy and fun and doesn’t take any more time. However once you have reached this level you have turned into a dog handler which means you are always conscious of your dog’s behavior and act accordingly. For example if you are eating dinner and you want your dog to lay down and at some point he gets up then you must stop eating and give the command again. If that doesn’t work you must correct the dog. After a while an occasional correction is all that is needed. As with any endeavor in life, skipping steps causes confusion and disorder.

Stages three and four usually require some outside help. There are dog training clubs that can help people get to this level of training. It could take a year or so of hard work and commitment, but you can also make it fun and meet some nice people.  Or you can send the dog to a professional and get it done and over with in a few weeks. This service generally comes with the post sessions to teach the proper maintenance of the dog. For stages one and two you can go to a group class or take private lessons. Private lessons cost more but are much more in depth and the owner can be critiqued on all points, and this accelerates the training and handling process. Advanced training is also available in private settings. Group classes are really valuable for the already trained dog through phase 2. Teaching the dog to obey through distractions is valuable and the group setting offers those distractions.

Whichever method you choose, having a well behaved pet will lower your blood pressure and keep all the hair on your head!

Happy training!