How to train your pet

There are many different training methods, and they are not all based on the same principles. In this article, we will explain the main differences between coercive and cooperative methods, as well as what you should know about each type of training device.

Reading time : 12 min

Training a pet is a hard but not impossible task. It is worth saying right away that you can do it yourself without the help of a training centre or a dog and cat trainer. Of course, there are training schools that offer training courses for pets, but this is not a requirement, just a solution if your dog or cat is particularly difficult to train. You do not need to become a dog trainer or even a dog educator to succeed.

So how do you go about training your pet? Dog or cat training requires knowing a few (simple) dog and cat training techniques, plus a minimum of commitment to understand your dog or cat's behaviour. One is not born a trainer; one must learn to train.

In this article, we will help you familiarise yourself with the techniques used by dog and cat trainers. You are then free to expand this newly acquired knowledge by purchasing a book on dog and cat training.

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The reasons to train your pet

The first question to ask yourself is why should you train or educate your pet? The answer is quite simple: without a minimum of training, your dog or cat will not understand what you expect of it in terms of life rules. You could quickly find yourself with a runaway dog or a missing cat for several days. Let's find out more why.

The dog and its tendency to run away

If you choose to not train your dog, you might find yourself facing the problem of a runaway dog. And in this case, there are not many alternatives: the runaway dog must be transformed into a trained dog to obtain its obedience or cooperation. Since some breeds of dogs are more prone to running away than others, you will have to understand your dog and do more or less work to succeed.

You must be proactive and not wait for your dog to run away before training it. Training is all the more effective when your dog is still a puppy. If the puppy has had its full socialisation during the first eight weeks of its life, it is sure to become a very well-trained dog as an adult! Note that a well-trained dog does not exempt you from having your dog identified, if only from a legal point of view.

There are other reasons as to why an owner may want to take care of the puppy's education: teaching to stay alone, teaching cleanliness, preventing barking, not fighting with the other fellow dogs... In other words, teaching the puppy good habits and getting it used to basic commands.

The cat and its tendency to disappear

Despite the popular belief that a cat always returns home, we advise not to test this theory. Why do cats disappear? Simply because their nature drives them to explore, to hunt, to expand their territory. There is no direct relation to any notion of the unhappiness of the animal, but rather to its inner being. For this reason, it is necessary to inculcate the elementary rules to be respected as soon as possible. The first of these rules is to come home in the evening, or in any case not to disappear for several days.

If it is often said that it is impossible to educate or train a cat, you should know that this is not true. Surprisingly, the same training techniques used for a dog can be used for a cat.

Training a dog

Welcoming a dog in your family is an exciting event. But to ensure a healthy relationship with your dog, it is important to set a structure and boundaries.

You should keep in mind that a dog is an animal, not a child and should not be treated like so.

Dog training is often associated with the coercive method of training, using submission and compliance. However, one should favour the cooperative care method when training a dog.

The coercive method

The coercive method is nothing of a gentle approach to training. The coercive method establishes a dominant and dominated relationship, the dog being submissive to the all-powerful owner and alpha of the pack. The owner uses an aggressive and punitive method and threats to bring the dog to submission.

In the coercive method of training, you will use electric collars, spiked collars, and anti-runaway collars.

The limits to this method are the physical and psychological consequences. You can risk hurting your dog by causing deep wounds around the neck, but you can also cause psychological trauma. Your dog can develop unpredictable behaviour, leading it to run away.

The cooperative care method

Cooperative care, or positive reinforcement training, is a gentle method that does not use coercion or domination. It does not damage the dog's integrity and also takes into account the owner who may be reluctant to use force to make their dog obey.

The cooperative care method motivates your dog to behave appropriately with rewards. It mainly uses conditioning to get the desired behaviour.

Training a puppy

Training a puppy is different to training an adult dog as you should teach it all its basic commands to live a harmonious life.

Successfully training a puppy is only the result of good socialisation. During the first eight weeks of its life, a mother will teach her puppies touch and affection by licking them, coexisting with other dogs, and keeping her puppies in check by telling them off and moving them.

When getting a puppy after the socialisation period, you should teach one trick at a time as to not overwhelm your dog. Training sessions should remain short, fun and happen regularly, as puppies have short attention spans.

When adopting a puppy, the first trick you should teach is potty training which can take up to two months.

Cooperative Care, known for positive reinforcement training, is the best way to train puppies and can be done during walks. Toys are very useful when training your dog and you should not hesitate to mix games with training sessions.

Puppies are particularly sensitive to voice variations, so you should try to not raise your voice and always encourage your puppy to adopt the right behaviour. Similarly, violence is not indicated in puppy training, otherwise, the puppy will close in on itself and, worse, adopt a behaviour opposite to the one desired.

Training a cat

A common misconception is that it is impossible to train a cat. That is simply not true. If done correctly, cats are very receptive to any natural forms of training. It all comes down to best understanding your cat.

First, just likes puppies, the socialisation in kittens is very important as the mother will have taught her kittens about all the cat's rules.

The breeder also has an important role in the kitten education and will introduce to people and other animals, to places outside the home and to certain noises that the kitten is likely to encounter in the future.

Different methods of cat training

It is important to establish a healthy relationship with your animal, training is one of the solutions. Cats are territorial animals that strive to live in a safe territory, where they feel good, respected, and safe. If not, they may develop signs of anxiety, become very aggressive or leave.

You should never use the coercive method of training on cats, as they can feel abused and become anxious. The cat will then run away and never come back.

Instead, you should use tricks to get your cat to change behaviour. You can use a catnip plant for its nibbling habit, a cat flap for its repeated scratching, or a scratching post to protect your furniture.

Cats are also receptive to conditioning, which can be applied with a clicker. Beware, however, as cats tend to be more noise sensitive, you might need to buy a special soft clicker.

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Preventing runaways

One of the ways to prevent runaways in dogs is with anti-runaway systems. In an anti-runaway electric system, a perimeter is defined within which the dog is allowed to move freely. Beyond this zone, the anti-runaway collar will emit an electric shock to dissuade the dog from leaving the defined perimeter. A beep announces the incoming shock so that the animal returns to the allocated space on its own without having to undergo negative reinforcement. The intensity of the shock is adjustable according to the sensitivity of the animal.

Limitations of anti-runaway collars for dogs and cats

We do not want to judge owners who choose to control runaway problems with an electric fence or an anti-runaway collar. However, if you have not yet exhausted all the options, we recommend that you postpone your purchase.

Electric shocks can be adjusted by you and are designed not to harm the animal, but they are still a treatment to be avoided. Especially since forcing your dog to obey you is not the way to strengthen the bond between you.

It should also be noted that, if for any reason your pet decides to ignore the electrostatic stimulation received, you will have no way of making its return. The same applies in the event of a sudden breakdown of the device. This dependence on your dog's or cat's anti-runaway collar is an important limitation of this type of anti-runaway system.

Using a training collar

There are other behaviours besides running away that a dog or cat owner may want to correct. One type of collar can be used to train your dog not to destroy plants, not to jump on people, or not to run after other dogs. However, be careful not to use an electric collar as a recall collar for your dog, because coming back to their owner should always be a source of pleasure for the animal. Otherwise, your dog will end up fearing you and you will have created the opposite behaviour of what you were looking for: your dog will simply run away from you.

How an electric collar works

The idea of the collar is to correct a "deviant" behaviour of the animal by punishing it with negative reinforcement. Electric collars all offer the possibility of initially warning the dog or cat with vibration or a ring. If obedience is not achieved, then an electric shock can be triggered.

Precautions for using a training collar

Favour a period of adaptation to the collar without any effective electric shock, vibration, or ringing. This will prevent the animal from associating the electric collar with the discomfort of punishment and will ensure that, in the long term, it behaves in the same way with or without the collar. A good adaptation period is one or two weeks before the first stimulus.

Finally, the punishment should be administered as soon as the dog has done the bad behaviour. This is to ensure that the association between the two is made. Incorrect use could worsen the behaviour of your dog or cat that you are trying to correct.

Using a training collar

When training a dog, it is best to go gradually, so as not to discourage the animal from learning. Work in short sessions of about 15 minutes to maximise concentration. Intersperse each session with a period of relaxation to maintain the game aspect of training and to allow the dog or cat to rest.

To train your dog well, you must also know how to make yourself understood. It is therefore essential to set up a code accepted by both parties: one beep means lying down, two beeps mean sitting, etc. Each of these codes should be mixed with a voice command ("down!", "sit!") so that you remain independent of the remote control, should it fail.

If you need to use punishment, always start with vibration or buzzer before using electric shock. Also, gradually increase the intensity of the dog and cat training harness to match your pet's sensitivity. This may depend on the environment and the level of distraction associated with it (e.g. in a park the background noise is greater).

Clicker training

You would like to train your cat or dog without the use of negative punishment? This training technique might be for you as it involves the cooperation of the animal rather than its obedience. The hierarchical relationship is therefore changed to focus on mutual respect between an owner and its trainee.

Principles of clicker training for dogs and cats

This type of positive education for dogs and cats uses a reward system (positive reinforcement) to get the animal to learn the desired behaviour. For example, not jumping on a person for a dog or not scratching on the sofa for a cat.

An identifiable sound, a click, will be emitted for each desired action while rewarding the animal. The sound will be made by the clicker (secondary reinforcement) and the reward will be given in the form of a treat (primary reinforcement). The pet will eventually associate the two events.

Precautions to take before starting clicker training

The first thing to bear in mind is that you should never raise your voice at your pet during training. If they don’t succeed the first time, it's not because they don’t want to, but because they need more time to learn what you are teaching them.

Then remember never to talk during your training sessions. Your guide is the clicker. It should be your only way of communicating. Otherwise, you will lose your pet and it will no longer make the association between the "click" and the reward (your voice will act as a parasite in the communication set-up).

Furthermore, you should avoid training after meals. The reason is simple: the hungrier your pet is, the more sensitive it will be to the treat you give it as a reward. Therefore, it is best to train several hours after the last meal.

The duration of each training session is also a point to watch. Avoid long training sessions as much as possible, and instead, opt for short sessions with moments of relaxation.

Limitations of clicker training

Clicker training has more advantages than disadvantages. In addition to its effectiveness, it allows the development of unparalleled complicity between you and your pet. Training quickly becomes a game for dogs and cats.

She stimulation that such training brings is also beneficial for your pet's spirit of initiative. It forces it to think, to test its intelligence and its capacity for analysis.

There is, however, a limit, and it concerns you more than your pet. Indeed, you will have to show yourself patient and show a real capacity to educate. And this is not so easy!

Choosing a good trainer

Calling in a dog trainer ensures that the right things are done, that the right attitudes are adopted concerning the puppy or dog, and that this is done right from the start.

Dog trainers intervene in the training of the dog, but they are also precious advisers and guides for the dog owner.

Reasons to use a dog trainer

With puppies, training cannot be improvised. Dog trainers can guide owners and explain how to train a puppy. Socialisation, obedience, recall training, barking control, walking with or without a leash, etc are taught.

Dog training is about games, such as clicker training, because it is about positive dog training. The coercive method has almost completely disappeared, at least among professionals.

If the dog has been taken in from a shelter, it may have a more or less traumatic past. A dog trainer can be called in as part of rehabilitation.

The dog trainer will then intervene to re-teach the dog basic commands. But their role can also consist of accompanying owners in their dog's education for the learning of recall, obedience, walking on or off lead or teaching them to control barking.

What makes a trainer good?

Looking for a good trainer can be stressful. To make you feel at ease, you can check the qualifications of the professional. In the UK, certification is not centralised so trainers should follow courses recognised by the CPD or the National Open Colleges Network. This training certifies that the dog trainer has mastered dog training methods and that they will be able to adapt their training to the breed (guard dog, sheepdog, companion dog, etc.) and advise owners on dog behaviour, diet, and legislation.

It is also important that you, as the owner, feel good about the trainer. The relationship between the dog trainer and the dog must be smooth, but it is also essential that the owner has total trust in the trainer. The method used should be in line with the owner’s values. In case of doubt, the owner should move on and find another dog trainer.

Calling in a cat behaviourist

In cat training, we prefer using the term of a cat behaviourist rather than a cat trainer. The cat behaviourist intervenes mainly to solve behavioural problems in cats that can make cohabitation difficult. They rely on ethology to identify the link between inappropriate behaviour and a specific event in the cat's life. They will dissect the cat's history, territory, rituals and habits in the home and any changes that have occurred.

Training your dog or cat will always require a significant commitment on your part. Whether it is an investment of time or work on yourself to be a good trainer.

The stakes are high: to live up to the love your pet has for you. Remember that they are never ill-intentioned: a cat or dog never misbehaves on purpose; you simply have to show it the way to a serene cohabitation with humans.

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