Who Is Zak George?
Zak George is the world's most current and influential dog trainer, running a website and recently publishing a book called the Dog Training Revolution. He has the largest Youtube following of any trainer in the world, and focuses only on the most effective training methods. Coincidentally, the best training method is Positive Reinforcement, so all his teachings are fun, proactive and incredibly effective.
Here's a look at his 6 Key Training Principles, which define the success of a happy dog and owner.
I share this for two reasons:
- So you know what you're reading is the latest and best advice.
- If you'd like to get in touch, you'll know I've done my homework.
Training Principle #1: Bonding with your dog
The idea here is that an exceptionally well behaved dog is actually just a by-product of a loving, respectful and understanding relationship. If you truly care for your dog, you'll love her. That's going to be expressed in the bond you share from day 1.
The moment your dog arrives home, one of your key goals should bonding. What's great is that dogs have spent about 15,000 years bonding to humans, so the process is pretty inherent now! They key ingredient is fun! The quickest way to bond with your dog is to play: fetch, tug-of-war, games of chase, etc.
Bonding is all about letting your new family member know they can trust and depend on you. This means being vigil in keeping the water bowl filled, remembering to feed great food at expected intervals, speaking to her nicely, and taking her for great & fun walks (pro tip: every walk for a dog is great & fun).
You should quickly find (and most of us already have), that it's a simple process to bond a dog. Meet their basic wants and needs and they'll be your best friend in no time.
Training principle #2: The Importance of exercise
Ever tried taking a hyper-active or energy filled dog for a pleasant walk? It's not pleasant! From a training perspective, you need to understand your little bundle of joy needs to burn off some steam before he's ready to learn.
Exercise is important for your dog's health, just like for people, but it serves a double purpose here for you: a tired dog is one that is well receptive to training. Couple this with their favourite treat and you're away.
By comparison, a dog with a bunch of energy left alone is one that is going to learn some pretty bad habits. You can bet most destructive and digging behaviour is because your dog isn't getting enough exercise.
Historically, dogs always had outlets for their energy. After all, until the 20th century, they were generally bred for specific purposes within work: herding, hunting, etc. Picture a dog at work all day, running back and forth across fields, intellectually and physically engaged. Now, have a look at your dog on the couch right now. See the comparison?
For low to medium energy dogs, like our lovable and squishy couch potato dogs, a walk to the park and back is enough. Some dogs however, like my Cas, require flying to the moon and back. Twice a day. You'll get a feel for what your dog requires, and you absolutely need to find the time to exercise them.
Fetch and Tug are the best games I use to play and burn energy quickly, if I'm strapped for time. They're generally the most fun too! My dog Archer is OBSESSED with fetch, while Cas loves playing Tug. 10 to 20 minutes with either solution leaves them in a coma: they get their outlet, and I can get back to work ;)
Training principle #3: learning to communicate
The benefit of dogs is that they, above all other living creatures, have the strongest gift of reading our intentions and what it is we're trying to communicate. They trump chimpanzees and our closest relative, the bonobos. This comes from Brian Hare, PhD, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University.
Dogs truly have the cognitive ability to understand us like no other animals, so let's make use of that!
Here are the key aspects of communication with your dog:
Eye contact is a big one. Lot's of people assume, and are often taught, that to look a dog in the eye is a bad move. It is, but only if you stare and walk towards them intently. It's the same with people. You can learn a lot from eye contact, and it can even encourage deeper connection. Staring someone in the eye however while walking towards them with intense intent on your eyes can be a little disturbing.
Dogs make eye contact with us to gather information: about our emotion, intent, when and where they might be fed, and any other number of things depending upon the context of the situation. Dogs even have some ability at following our gaze and understanding the meaning behind it, says Zak George.
One of the basic training moves I teach is to get your dog to look at you. It's a way of breaking their concentration on their current occupation and instead getting them to focus on you. It's great for communication, focus, and establishing connection with your dog. The more you can have your dog focusing on you and understanding eye contact, the deeper your bond will be!
Hand signals and body language can augment and even replace verbal speech, much as it does for people who rely on sign language as their medium of communication.
Some dogs are more responsive to sign language, and vice versa, so it's always a good idea to include both and even to exaggerate your movements when you're teaching new skills. This exaggeration is more for you however, to keep consistent. Dogs are incredible at picking up on the intricacies of body movement: it's the main form of communication after all!
Teaching your language
A dog can learn about as much of our language as a young child, so don't hold back.
A distinction with teaching dogs however, is that continuous repetition of a word isn't ideal. We want our dogs to understand that "down" means lie down, not that "downdowndown" means lie down. Does that make sense? We work with a single world, and if that doesn't work, we take a quick break or use a simple "no" and withhold the reward.
What's really important when teaching new language is to say the word after they perform the behaviour. The second her belly touches the ground, then we say "Down", slowly, once and with intent. Once this is reliable, we can begin to work the word backwards until we can say it confidently before the movement.
Learning your dog's communication cues
A good relationship is a two-way street, where both partners understand each other clearly! We're putting all this effort into teaching our dogs our language, so we need to keep in mind learning there language is integral too.
I bet you can tell the difference between your dog's myriad of barks: playful, aggressive, shocked, excited, etc. We also understand their intricacy of body movements: one dog standing stock still starting intently might be ready to bolt, while to another it means, "grab that ball and throw it for me!".
A really great exercise I learnt in the past was to take one of the five general body cues (tail, ears, eyes, mouth, and posture) and observe for a minute in different situations. How did their tail move differently, and what responses did it bring?
Every dog is different, so learning the details of how yours works is so important. If you know, down to each square inch on their body what their movement means, it can really help in identifying a new dog's behaviour at glance. Not to say they share the same movement patterns, but your eye will be much more discerning from practice.
training principle #4: be consistent
In my opinion, this is probably one of the hardest principles to really nail down, and it's generally why people find the need for my help!
Being consistent with training means always having the time, patience and ability to switch into training mode, when necessary. It's so easy to let your little Snorlax get away with not listening when you ask him to "come". Instead of sighing and repeating the word, or worse off, moving on to something else, you need to snap into training mode. You gave him the request, so follow it through! Spend the next few second or minutes achieving the success of the command, even if that means grabbing his favourite treat and luring him every step of the way.
Also, whenever your dog displays a behaviour you don't like, then its your job to correct this. Allowing your dog to occasionally jump up on you when you arrive home is only giving him the message that your command (or his behaviour) to stay on all fours is only sometimes necessary. Again, it's your job to be consistent, otherwise you'll never see truly great results!
So pull your pants up, make that decision to commit to consistency, and you'll see results in no time.
Seriously, making the decision to always pay attention and train with consistency changes your whole relationship in an awesome way. You're more empowered for being a great trainer (no to mention less stress and resignation), and your dog is much more comfortable having clear guidelines on what to do to keep you happy!
Training principle #5: Control the environment
The biggest mistake dog owners can and do make is by giving their new dog access to all environments. It is absolutely essential that you make sure this is not the case! Your new bud needs to understand, piece by piece, how to interact within a given situation. Without guidance from us, they're lost when it comes to interacting in our culture.
The easiest way to deal with this is a leash. Attach it to yourself and your dog, and carry out your daily tasks when you're home. When you're not home, ensure he is in a puppy proofed area that is not open to too many variables. This way, you're 100% sure of where and how your dog is interacting with the environment around him!
Keep the leash on for a few weeks, and that should do the trick. The idea here is that everything your dog has a chance to interact with, you'll be able to say "Yes" or "No" to the expensive shoes or tasty socks on the ground. You'll be building awesome house habits while destroying bad ones before they have a chance to develop.
Training principle #6: Train from the inside out
Zak explains it like this: "Outside-In Training" is the goal of making your dog do something, while "Inside-Out Training" is allowing your dog to want to do something on her own.
Essentially, Outside-In training methods are not only inefficient, but they also lessen the bond between you and your new best friend. You could walk along, waiting and punishing your dog for any 'mistakes' she makes, thus teaching her to avoid bad things. This is going to make her fearful of displeasing you in certain situations, and it's called "experiential avoidance". Do you really want to work within a paradigm where all your learning comes from "how do I NOT make my owner angry? I really don't want him to be angry at me..."
Doesn't feel quite right, right?
Inside-Out training on the other hand, allows for that awesome relationship of encouragement, feeling good, and actually allowing dogs to use their incredibly human-tuned minds to accomplish great things. It's called Positive Reinforcement. Doing something again because the outcome was good. The more you can make a dog's choice create a positive outcome (treats, play, fun, joy, etc), the more they are going to do that, because it's great!
You can literally bring this into every aspect of training, and you should! Instead of waiting for bad moments, plan for good ones! Set your dog up to win, then reward ecstatically and get so excited that they just HAVE to do it again. You can set this up in any scenario, and before you know it, your dog will be so keen and so excited to do the right behaviour, since they know it's going to be followed by good things.
This is the basis of all training. Be proactive, be positive, and understand where your dog is coming from. With this knowledge, you'll be set to have the best relationship with your dog possible!
I know this page was text heavy, but if you're keen to take the next step and understand how Positive Reinforcement works in greater detail, check out the button below!