Are you looking for a comprehensive Shih Tzu training guide? Perhaps you are tired of poking around the internet and only finding conflicting advice?
Well you need look no more because we have everything that you need, in the beginners guide to Shih Tzu training, right here.
We will talk about how your dog learns, what the term reinforcement means and even how you can clicker train your Shih Tzu and have some great, fun dog training sessions.
The Shih Tzu is one of the wonders of the world. Bred initially to be a companion dog this role is his for the keeping now. He is a friendly, proud and bright little beast that needs the right motivation to learn.
Shih Tzu Training Types
If you have looked towards the mainstream dog training methods then you will have encountered two main types of Shih Tzu training;
1. The first is the training that assumes your dog is a wolf and that you must act like a wolf too. This is a type of training which promises wonderful results by establishing a type of dominance over your dog. Please don’t follow this advice, there is a far better way to train your dog.
2. The second training type caters to exactly the way your Shih Tzu learns and is called positive reinforcement. This training type is the one which will bring you to the best possible Shih Tzu communication ever. Scientists and kind experimentation has shown that a dog will always repeat something that he thinks provokes a favorable result for himself. If you keep this in mind your Shih Tzu training will indeed be perfect.
So let’s go through the basics of great Shih Tzu training right here.
Shih Tzu Training Motivation for Great Results
First of all though it’s important to work out exactly what it is that motivates your dog for successful Shih Tzu training sessions. When you achieve the best motivation your Shih Tzu will fly through training sessions like the cleverest dog alive.
Try food, toys and physical praise then ask yourself what your dog likes most of all. It will probably be food, the Shih Tzu tends to like the finer things in life and small tasty treats are no exception. The treats must be small or your dog will soon get satiated and motivation will wane quicker for the satisfied dog.
You can tell what motivates your Shih Tzu the most by his reaction to whatever you are holding or offering at the time. The keener he is to obtain the treats, food, toys or physical touch the harder he will try to learn the lesson.
Shih Tzu Training – It’s all about Reinforcement
When you apply the universal process of reinforcement, which brings the best Shih Tzu training results, you will be able to use it when you teach your dog anything at all. From a basic sit position right through to impressive tricks, it’s all simply a matter of well-timed reinforcement.
Remember I said that your dog will repeat anything at all that brings him a favorable result? Well this is fact, it’s the way his brain is wired and there is nothing we could ever do to change this, so we might as well use it, wouldn’t you say?
Now we have the theory of reinforcement in your mind let’s get on and train your Shih Tzu.
Shih Tzu Training – Focus
The first thing to teach your Shih Tzu is to focus on you. Too many people forget this and try so hard to get a dog to sit, or not pull on the leash, whilst the dog is looking somewhere else entirely.
Easy steps to teaching focus are;
1. Start in a place with no distractions and show your dog a tiny treat.
2. Bring the treat from the end of your dog’s nose, up over your head and at the moment your dog looks into your eyes simply say ‘focus’ and give him the treat.
3. Practice a few times and finish the session on a good note.
4. Gradually teach your Shih Tzu to focus on you in areas with more distractions.
Teach your Shih Tzu to Sit
This is one of the easiest commands to teach your Shih Tzu with reinforcement. He will often sit naturally and all you need to do is reinforce the act and add a command word to it.
1. Once again begin in an area with no distractions.
3. If he needs help to sit you can put the treat on the end of your Shih Tzu’s nose and gently bring it up over his head so that his rear touches the ground. At that point say the word sit and give him the treat. This is a method called Lure and Capture.
4. Increase distractions gradually.
Shih Tzu Training – Down
In the same way as teaching the sit command you can lure the dog into a down position and capture the behavior with a ‘down’ command. Remember to begin with no distractions and build up into busier areas.
This may take a bit longer but when your Shih Tzu gets the idea there will be no stopping him. It’s a good idea to start teaching this command on soft ground such as a rug, The Shih Tzu likes his comfort after all.
You can even use your foot as a secret weapon and hide a treat underneath it. Your Shih Tzu will lie down at some point, as long as he knows the treat is there, and you can quickly add the command word for down lift your foot and practice.
Pavlov’s Dog and your Shih Tzu
Although the above methods will work and are based in positive reinforcement you can make training your dog even easier by adding something else to the mix. A reinforcement tool or in more common terms a clicker.
A clicker is a dog training tool that works perfectly to reinforce a dog’s behavior.
The behavior that we base clicker training around is a process that Ivan Pavlov discovered way back in the 1890’s. Pavlov was a scientist that was studying the digestive system of dogs in a laboratory environment. He learned something that we use today in everyday behavior modification. Pavlov discovered classical conditioning.
The scientist noticed that his dogs were beginning to drool at the sight of the laboratory assistants that fed them and drool even more when their food bowls rattled. So he worked out that the dogs knew that they were going to be fed from the change in their environment. It’s pretty obvious to us now isn’t it?
Next he introduced a bell before feeding time and soon the dogs, even when no other clues were visible, drooled at the sound of the bell. This part is not such an everyday occurrence in our lives today.
Now, after many years and further discoveries by a whole array of different scientists Pavlov’s feeding time bell has become our training clicker.
The clicker is what we call a secondary reinforcer. It tells the dog that something else is going to happen after the sound of the click. Something that fulfills one of his primary needs and in this case the primary need is eating.
So in very basic terms the clicker tells your dog that he is going to get food.
Now add this to the dog that will repeat anything at all which he thinks brings him a favorable result and you will see that the clicker is a very powerful tool indeed.
Shih Tzu Training – Clicker Use
So you have the knowledge which makes you aware of how and why the clicker works. It’s time to do some clicker training with your Shih Tzu.
First of all you need a clicker. This is easy enough, they sell them on Ebay, in most pet stores and online shops. A clicker is very cheap costing only a couple of dollars. Then you need an abundance of small clicker training treats.
It is vital that the treats you use for clicker training are small. Think of yourself when you eat treats. A small amount of candy is far more interesting than a whole block or box isn’t it? Treats will keep your dog motivated only for as long as he is interested in them and the more he has the less interested he will be.
Making the Clicker Training Connection
The first thing to do is show your Shih Tzu the connection between the food and the click. This is a process that is called tuning in. It’s easy enough and your dog should get the idea quickly, in as few as five or six quick sessions.
Each session should be only a few minutes long, it should certainly be short enough to keep your dog’s interest and attention. Simply show your dog that a click leads directly to a treat around ten times during the session. You can do this by feeding him a treat from your hand when you click, throwing one into the room or doing a mixture of the two. The rule though is one click leads to one treat every single time.
Never click without giving a treat because this will ensure that the click becomes less effective as your reinforcer. This is a good habit to establish right at the beginning and never change.
Then after five or six sessions, of the tuning in process, your Shih Tzu should be ready for clicker training. Make a final check that the connection is established before moving on by clicking when your dog is doing something completely different. If his head shoots up and he comes straight to you for a treat then that’s great, your Shih Tzu is tuned into the clicker.
Clicker Training Conditions
Whilst there are not too many rules with clicker training there are some things to keep in mind if you want your Shih Tzu clicker training to succeed. As we have covered the roots of your dog’s learning based around the clicker these should make sense.
The first mistake not to make is calling your dog back with a click. Remember that the sound is a secondary reinforcer and will teach your dog to repeat exactly what he is doing at the time. So if your Shih Tzu is running in the other direction, sniffing a tuft of grass or simply meandering around and ignoring your voice the click will make sure that you are teaching him to repeat that behavior alone.
Even if the click gets the attention of your dog at the time, which it probably will, his natural learning ability will send him right back to the behavior he was carrying out when he heard it. You would literally be teaching your dog to run away, sniff grass or ignore you and I’m certain that’s not why we are here.
You can however use your clicker for recall but to reinforce the dog when he is already either looking towards you or on his way back.
Let’s look at that now shall we?
Teach Your Shih Tzu to Come Back
One of the questions that dog trainers and behaviorists are asked, time and time again, is “how do I get my dog to come when called?” Recall training with dogs is actually very easy when you know the rules of reinforcement and can apply them naturally.
Making sure that the most rewarding thing to your dog, when he is off leash, wherever you are is the fundamental rule of good Shih Tzu recall training. To ensure success you can also follow up with stages of general recall training that train your dog’s mind in smaller more digestible steps.
Your dog’s age when you teach recall really does not matter. The steps that you use to achieve great results are exactly the same whether he is eight weeks or eight years old. The idea is to condition his mind in small progressive chunks in order to achieve a great response every time you recall your Shih Tzu.
If you are training a Shih Tzu puppy or retraining an older dog with unhelpful habits the same approach will work. This is because it takes place over a number of steps and each step is learned to perfection, in a number of various areas, before you move on to the next one.
Distractions when teaching recall should start very low, at every described training stage, then increase until your dog responds in the most distracting area possible then, and only then do you move on to the next training stage.
Dog training does not cut corners or rush things. Think of it like a house build from the ground up, foundations first then each floor. If the foundations or any of the floors are unstable the whole thing will come crashing down and your dog’s learning is exactly the same.
Shih Tzu Recall Training – The Stages
1. Start by having your dog on the leash and calling him back, taking his collar or harness and giving him a treat then releasing him again to carry on with what he was doing. Increase distractions gradually until you can get your dog’s attention and return in every possible circumstance.
2. Progress to having your dog on a longer leash and repeating stage one.
3. Then progress further by having your dog on a light leash but dropping the leash on the ground so that your dog has slightly more choice and freedom, then repeat the previous stages.
4. You can use the clicker to reinforce the act of coming back. Always click when your dog is on his way to you though, not before.
5. Then, as a final stage of recall training, begin to call your dog back when he is not wearing a leash at all. Remember the rules of distraction, start low and move into areas of higher distraction as your dog learns to cope.
The idea here is to take things slowly enough that your dog does not see running away as a viable option, for if he does it may become a habit. This rebuilding of learning foundations will also work for eradication of the running away behavior if it is already established.
Shih Tzu Training for Fantastic Recall
There are also some tricks that you can do in order to sharpen your dog’s recall. For instance you can ask a helper to hold your Shih Tzu and show him a treat before running away. As you call your dog signal to the helper to release him and he will come racing back because the treat will be fresh in his mind.
You can also hide on walks and watch carefully as your dog realizes that you are gone, this will teach him to keep a sharp eye on you at all times in case you vanish. He should be able to find you with his nose but you can help by giving him vocal clues as to your position.
If you have access to a helper with a dog even better for you can set the two dogs against each other in a race, giving them the impression that the first one to get to you gets the treat, then have them released in the same way. This recall game will give your dog extra conviction when he hears your call.
The Shih Tzu that pulls on the leash can be taught to maintain a slack leash with the clicker and this is a pretty easy lesson for him to learn. Remember when I told you that a dog will always repeat exactly what he finds advantageous to him? Your job is to simply make a slack leash more rewarding to your dog than a tight leash.
You can do this by bringing your click and tiny treats into action. Practice in an area of low distractions initially, as with all types of dog training, and increase distractions as your dog gets the idea.
By standing still, changing direction and increasing or decreasing your pace as you walk you will be automatically creating a slack leash. You can then click and treat your dog and he will soon associate the lack of leash pressure with the reward. Before you even realize it is happening your dog will start creating a slack leash all on his own to try and solicit that click. Then if you want to teach a smart heel position only click when your dog is walking at your heel.
Variable Reward & Shih Tzu Training
Variable reward is a wonderful tool to use when your dog is getting the idea of something but doesn’t quite grasp it completely. The idea is that you start off teaching something by using a lot of reward.
Then as the dog learns you begin to reward on an intermittent basis, being completely random with your treat delivery brings the best results, because it keeps the dog trying his hardest every time.
Finally you start to reward an almost learned act less and less, with training treats, because by this point your dog should know what he is doing and will need less motivation. You can then use frequent treats to reward the next thing you want to teach.
Before we go I want to make something else clear. I would like you to know that your Shih Tzu probably sees your attention as a huge reward. So if you are telling him off, or telling him that he’s the best well-trained Shih Tzu in the world, attention will usually make your dog repeat whatever he was doing that the time you gave it.
This is where a lot of communication problems occur because people tend to believe that telling the dog off is enough to make him realize not to repeat a behavior. Dogs don’t understand our language though and anything that he gets attention for, in your Shih Tzu’s eyes, is well worth repeating. Which is exactly why the dog that is pushed away keeps jumping up and the one that is shouted at keeps on barking.
Which brings us neatly to the end, so happy dog training and we hope you have learned, the basics of how your dog thinks, from the beginners guide to training a Shih Tzu. The dog’s mind is fascinating, enjoy it!