Adult Dog Training – Do Not Forget The 2 Second Rule

One morning, like most other mornings I was taking our Jack Russell, Zippy, for her run, nothing unusual in that. She is mad about balls so as usual she was carrying one in her mouth. We are lucky enough to live opposite a large Green and she will spend hours given the chance letting me throw and her chase the ball all over it. You might say that this is the only reason that she wants to go for a walk, simply to fetch her ball.

We have to cross the road in front of our house to get to the Green on the other side. There are always parked cars on our side of the road. This particular morning, while we were waiting at the kerb to cross, Zippy managed to drop the ball. It rolled right under one of the parked cars. We could both see it but neither of us could get to it from any direction because it was exactly in the middle of the car. I needed a stick or something but I was in a hurry so we proceeded across the road.

Now here’s the interesting bit. Even though Zippy is an intelligent, well trained and bright little dog who had clearly seen her ball lost under the parked car, while we were on the Green she still continually pestered me to throw the non-existent ball. So why didn’t she remember that the ball was lost under the car?

Well this clearly illustrates the big difference between the way our brain works compared with that of a dog. Dogs do not primarily remember things by recall or work things out as we do. They live in the present and what ‘memories’ they have are based upon association. In the example above, by the time Zippy had reached the Green she had forgotten that her ball was under the car but she continually pestered me for it because she associated the Green with playing fetch.

Dogs think in concrete terms. It is very much action = consequence for them and as a result a dog is likely to repeat actions that are rewarded and avoid actions that are ignored or discouraged. You probably recognise this as the basis of all dog training.

Because a dog’s recall ability is rubbish, training a dog involves creating the right associations by getting your dog to perform an action and immediately rewarding him with a treat or praise.

There is one very important thing to remember. In order to successfully make this association the time between the dog’s action and his reward cannot be more than 2 seconds. This can cause problems, for instance, suppose you are teaching your dog to sit but you are a bit slow to praise him and in fact by the time you do he is standing up again. The danger is that you have reinforced the stand up rather than the sit.

So you can see that it is very easy to confuse a dog during training and it is very important to instantly encourage wanted behaviour with praise or a treat.