Positive Reinforcement Training
Jasmine and I are officially communicating, guys!
When I first brought her home on April 19th, it took a while for her to not think I was crazy and another few weeks to figure out how to communicate. But we’re getting there!
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how I actually train Jasmine at home, so I’ll answer those questions here in this post. First of all, I am not a professional dog trainer by any means, but Jasmine was incredibly obnoxious when I first brought her home, and these techniques have worked for us. So I’ll outline some of her major behavioral issues and how I’ve reversed them.
Also, Jasmine is not aggressive, so if you have an aggressive dog (fear or anger based, etc.) then my training methods might not be the best for you.
Right now, I’m on an extended vacation, so I’ve actually been spending all my time with Jasmine since late April. As for a schedule, I train her for 3-5 hours a day. Part of that includes working with Apollo, my border collie. I know that seems like a lot, but really, it’s not. When we go for her morning runs (8-ish miles) it’s a training opportunity. When we’re playing at the park, I take 20 minutes to do specific drills with her around distractions. When we’re on our 12-mile hikes, it’s time for her to socialize with other dogs. I break up her training throughout the day so it’s constant reinforcement, and this is something I can maintain when I go back to the corporate world of engineering when I’m off vaca.
I reward more than I correct. Always. So as soon as she’s doing something I like, I reward her. When she does something bad, and she does A LOT, I’ll distract her with something more enticing and then reward her for the good behavior.
Originally, she didn’t even take to snacks, so that was really difficult to get her to even learn her name because she didn’t like toys, she didn’t like snacks…she just…blah. It wasn’t until I introduced her to prime rib roast that she started listening to me. 😀
Now she loves snacks, and I’m transitioning her to toys and tugs as a means of rewarding. Find something that the dog loves and use it to your advantage.
Learning Her Name
Jasmine’s registered name is Baylie. After she was imported from Germany, the local breeder she was staying with told me, “Don’t worry. Just call her from the end of a field and you’ll be good.” Soooo not true haha. When I brought her home, she didn’t even respond to that to be honest. To teach Jasmine her *new* name, I stood in front of her and said, “Jasmine.” And as soon as she made eye contact with me, I gave her a piece of that prime rib she loves so much.
She’d wander off like any other dog would, and when she’d ignore me, I’d take a few steps back and ignore her back. After a few moments, I’d come back and try again and reward her when she gave me eye contact.
I did this for 30 minutes every day, and after two weeks she started whipping her head around every time I said her name. Dogs can learn nicknames really quickly (within a few days, really), but Jasmine and I were just getting to know each other so I knew this would take some time. But it’s paid off.
“No” isn’t something a dog instinctively knows because it’s used for a bunch of different things. I use the command to mean “whatever you’re doing, stop.”
Jasmine is still learning this one, but I say it mostly when she mouths. And as a 3-year-old GSD, her teeth are freaking sharp, man. She used to gnaw on my extremities and put my parents’ hands in her mouth—oh HECK no. She’s much better now, but it took a while for her to get the point.
To get her to stop mouthing (and learn “no”), whenever she’d gnaw on my hand, I would make it uncomfortable for her. So basically, I’d stick my fingers under her tongue, or start poking the side of her butt with my finger. While I’m doing this, I say, “nein.” As soon as she stops, I reward her with snacks.
To fix the mouthing, I’d sit with her for 15 minutes and try to get her to gnaw on me. I’d play with her, get her excited, and when she wrapped those pearly whites around my wrist, my fingers would go straight under her tongue. She really didn’t like me doing that.
After a week, she understood that mouthing meant she’d get fingers wrapped around her tongue, and “no” meant “stop.” Win win! She’s probably mouthed me once within the last two weeks.
Pulling on Her Leash
Jasmine was the WORST at this. Before I got her, she was actually a show dog and they pull on leads in competition. Imagine a dog as big as me just dragging me through the grass. That was Jasmine.
Because she was so horrible on a leash, I did exercises with her off leash first. Meaning, getting that prime rib out and teaching her how to heel properly (without naming it). After a few days of prime ribbing it, I tried the leash and she had stopped pulling. This is in an enclosed area, by the way. She stayed pretty close to me because I had her precious food, so it’s not like she was afraid of me or she was aggressive or anything.
Like I said, I’d rather reward more often than correct, and off-leash training allows me to do that. I’ve heard prong collars are great for leash pullers, but I just avoid using that stuff on her. In most of my videos of her at home, you’ll see she’s not wearing anything around her neck.
Jasmine used to jump on people. Ugg! This is the worst thing ever! Training a dog not to jump requires constant monitoring. It was pretty exhausting watching Jasmine around my elderly parents. As soon as she’d show signs of wanting to pounce, I’d distract her, tell her to sit (or something else) and reward her.
When she does jump on me, I turn quickly and ignore her. Or I shove my fingers under her tongue because I know she doesn’t like that haha.
She stopped jumping on me. 😀
I still have to keep an eye on her when she’s around other people so I can correct it, but I’m beginning to trust her. If she won’t jump on me, she won’t jump on anyone.
General Sit, Down, Stay
The most disheartening thing is when you train your dog to do something, only to have your neighbors or your family members screw it up. Meaning, they don’t use the same commands, or they undo all of the training you just instilled. Mer!!!
This is why I train Jasmine in German. Sure, she’s getting the hang of English commands, but when I use German I know that no one else in my immediate circle is going to undo everything I just taught her. So they can continue using English commands with her and I don’t have to worry about it.
Lucky for me, Jasmine already knew some German, so this was the starting point of us communicating with each other.
With general commands, for the first 100 repetitions, I don’t name the command.
For the next 400-500 repetitions, I name it (cue) and reward during the action. Sometimes this takes an entire week per command.
The first couple hundred repetitions are the most important, so I make them as perfect as possible. Someone once told me “perfect practice makes perfect” and I 100% agree with this. Dogs make mistakes and so do humans, but practicing well will yield the best results.
HAHAH. Jasmine and I are working on this now…so I’ll let you know what I end up doing with her…
Happy training, fiends!