What is training when it comes to your pet?
Training your pet is a really good idea. They don’t think the way we do and usually don’t understand what we expect of them, so we need to help them out a bit.
But what IS training when it comes to your pet, exactly? Training is defined as “the act of teaching an animal a certain type of skill or behavior” according to Google. If you have pets, you probably are trying to teach them skills and behaviors that will help them fit into your home better, help the two of you do an activity, or both.
When your plan is to teach your pet something, you do things to intentionally teach them whatever it is you’re trying to teach them. For example, if you want to teach a dog to shake hands, you might try to get them to raise one paw and then reward the effort with a treat. That is basically reinforcement training.
Some people punish for undesired behavior. They might spank a dog for going potty in the house. This is certainly training, although it usually doesn’t have the same long term positive effect as using positive reinforcement.
But there is another type of training.
Unintentional training is when you teach your pet something even when you don’t think you’re doing it. Have you ever noticed that your pet watches you? They do. All the time.
Our pets often pay attention to our every move. They probably know the routine for when they’re about to be fed. When you’re getting ready to go somewhere, they’ve probably already noticed the signs. Maybe your horse searches your pockets when you go see them. They might even get a little pushy or rude.
You’re doing certain things that your pet has learned to recognize as meaning something. Even though you didn’t even realize it, you’ve taught them a behavior. Problem is that if you didn’t mean to teach it, the behavior might not be what you want.
How do you take control of what you’re teaching your pet?
The most important thing you can do in this situation is to make an effort to be aware of everything your pet is noticing when you’re with them. It can take concentration and effort, but it’s worth it to teach the lessons you want to be teaching. Here are some things to try;
- You can watch them for changes in behavior, which might be a sign that you’ve taught them something that you weren’t aware of.
- Try being purposefully consistent in how you work with your pet. Same order of feeding. Do the steps for preparing for an activity in the same order every time.
- You can make a training session out of regular activities so that you’re intentionally teaching what you want your pet to learn.
Every time you’re with your pet, you are teaching them something. So if you’re aware of when you’re teaching them, you can be intentional about what you’re teaching them. It sounds like a whole lot of work, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Does it get easier?
You’ll get used to watching for signs of developing issues and get to fixing them more quickly. Your pets will also get used to you being aware of what they’re doing so they don’t ignore lessons you’ve already taught them. You’ll all be able to relax and enjoy each other more when you all know what to expect.
You can find tons of resources out there for training ideas and advice. One of the sources I like is Victoria Stilwell, who has a website and several books on the subject. Or I’ve talked to some trainers and written a couple of posts that could be helpful; Dog training from a trainer’s perspective or Horse training; a trainer’s perspective.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with training your pets. Comment below.