There are so many books—some good—out there on dog training, I am not going to try to replicate them here. There are many people who have done a lot more training then me, and I am sure there are many people who are better at training then me. That said, here are a few tips and observations that I have made from my experience with dogs:
The very first thing I would advise to people who want to train their dog is this: Learn their language. That makes sense, right? We expect our dogs to speak our spoken language, and to understand all of our wants and desires. They already understand our moods. That is an innate skill that they have. All animals have language, and dogs are very intelligent animals and have a variety of ways that they communicate with each other, and just as many ways that they try to communicate with us. If you learn their language, you will be a much more effective trainer, and the dog will appreciate the fact that you love them enough to communicate with her in a way that she will best be able to understand. After all, she is going to learn at least some or our language, and in my case, English.
There are a lot of studies and much research out there on canine society, interaction, and pack dynamics. Most people who like dogs are aware that they are pack animals, and that when you bring a dog home, the dog sees its family as its pack. Therefore, the dog assumes that the hierarchy of the pack and the relationships within the pack follow pack protocol and etiquette. There are a lot of confused dogs out there, trust me. Most humans don’t know the first thing about protocol and etiquette these days, let alone pack dynamics.
I cannot recommend the following books enough:
On Talking terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behaviour by Roger Abrantes
Now that you have studied and learned dog language and behavior (did you order the books yet?), you can employ this knowledge in your training. If, for example, your dog is nervous, you can use calming signals to let him know that “Hey, I know this is a different sort of thing we are doing but I am fine with it, and you can be too!” Dogs are very sensitive to mood, and if you are truly happy about your dogs attempts to please you in training, he will be less discouraged.
There is another thing to consider when training your dog. Does he have a hard time focusing on what you are trying to do? Then it is time to evaluate what may be distracting him. First thing to consider: what are you feeding him? I cannot say this enough—diet is everything. (For you, too.) Does your dog food contain sugar? Carbohydrates? Just like human kids in school, if they are pumped up on sugar, they cannot sit still or concentrate on what they are doing. A dog is no different. A dog with a proper diet will be better adjusted, more intelligent, and more tuned into his surroundings. If one thinks about it, it is a nature of a canine to be aware of their surroundings. Dogs are predators. It is their business to know what is going on where. If he cannot focus, change his food.
Another consideration is your dog’s daily rhythms. Does your dog always tend to nap at a certain time of day? When is she most awake and attentive? When is she tired? The obvious time to have a lesson is when she is awake, engaged, and wanting to do something. Lesson time should be fun for both of you. If you are stressed, skip the lesson until you are more relaxed.
Then, there is the reality that everything you do with your dog and around your dog is “dog training.” Our dogs watch us. We are the pack leaders for our dogs (or we should be.) Your dog will learn everything from you, whether you know you are teaching him or not. So, being mindful with our animals is the best way to train them, for they look to us for many things, and we can often teach and train our dogs just by interacting with them in a mindful way on a daily basis.
If one examines the temperament of a canine alpha pack member or the “leader of the pack,” one can note that he or she is generally calm, cool, collected, and fairly quiet. The alpha of the pack is confident and observant. As the alpha leader of our packs, we need to be the same. If we are uncertain, nervous, lack confidence, and are hyper or distracted, we will not send the right messages to our dogs, and an alpha personality dog might decide he better step in and set things right. This, in a human/canine pack, is not a good thing.
Training dogs, like most things in life, is commonsense. Start by orienting yourself to the dog’s perspective. Then figure out how to best convey to her what it is you want from her so that she can best understand you. She wants to please you. She just needs you to translate your wants to her so that she can comply.
One thing I love about German Shepherds is their keen intelligence. Jasmine only had to be told and shown what I wanted her to do once or twice. I worked a lot with her on her English vocabulary. When we lived in town and she was mostly indoors, she had a toy box, and I taught her to put one toy away before she got out the next toy. When we used to go to the local dog park, we could be on the other side of the park, with tons of people and dogs in between us and the entrance gate, and I could tell her that “Jerry and Zeus are here!”, and she would understand and run to greet them. She never forgets a name—human or dog.
Recognize the intelligence in your dog and work with it. They are amazing animals. I started training Jasmine when I got her at seven weeks of age. She was primed and ready, and mostly I trained her through play. When she would try to put her mouth on one of my things rather than one of her toys, I would say, “No! Mine!”, or “That’s mine!” She learned very quickly what not to touch, and never chewed up anything that was inappropriate for her to have. There was one time when my leather moccasin tempted her too much. She must have held it in her mouth for a short time, because it was wet in one spot from saliva. But, she brought it to me and gave it to me, telling on herself that she had touched my slipper. Such a good girl!!! How could you not just love this dog!!
Humans are baffling, inconsistent and temperamental creatures. Help your dog by being loving, consistent, and confident. Train him, teach him, and have fun with him!