Training your Ridgeback
Different dog breeds were created to preform various functions. Some worked with and under direction of their humans, such as the working dogs that herd sheep & cattle or the gundogs that would indicate the birds & then retrieve them on command. Most of the hound breeds, including the Rhodesian Ridgeback, were bred to hunt independently of their handler, so they needed to think for themselves. They still maintain this trait of independence today and this makes them a dog that may full well understand what you would like them to do, but will be asking themselves what is in it for me.
Ridgebacks respond best to reward based training. This is where they are praised & rewarded for doing the right or desired action, and the incorrect action is ignored. Although they are a breed that is willing to please, they do bore easily so don’t overdo it. Always finish any training season on a good note which is a successful attempt and resist the temptation for doing ‘just one more’. Don’t try for that one more ‘good sit’ as you may not get it and then you finish on failure. Ridgebacks have to want to do something and if they don’t want to do it you’re not going to be able to make them.
The sort of praise you use will depend on your dog. It might be a ‘good boy’, a pat on the head, an ear rub, a game of tug with a toy or food. It just needs to be of value to your dog, something they really want and enjoy getting. If you do use food, use something special or different to their normal food. Training treats should be small, tasty and desirable. Don’t forget to take these into account with your dogs daily food allowance and perhaps you will need to reduce their dinner or they might get fat.
The ridgeback is very smart and will soon work out that if it does something it gets a treat. This unfortunately may result in your ridgeback only doing it when they know you have the food on you. So you should not solely rely on food but also use verbal praise and physical praise as you will always have these with you to use. If you do use toys, such as a ball, you need to realise that the ridgeback is not a natural retriever so you may be the one who ends up doing the retrieving.
Remember when you praise or reward your dog, you are praising them for the last thing they have just done, as they can’t remember what they did 2 minutes ago. An example of this is a dog that has just pulled the washing off the line, you call it and it comes to you, where by you punish it for the washing. In your mind you are punishing it for the washing, but for your dog you are punishing it for its last action which was coming to you. Will your dog want to come to you again?
Despite their big dog exterior, the Ridgeback is quite a soft dog. If you yell at them or lose your temper, you will find that your dog will not want to come near you. So if you are in a bad mood or not feeling well, don’t train your dog. Leave it for another day when you are feeling better.
It is a good idea to take any new puppy to dog training for the first year of its life. As well as learning how to train your dog, you will be developing a good working relationship or bond with your dog. Also it is a good opportunity for socialisation with other dogs. A lot of training clubs have free run areas your dog can play with its class mates. Learning doggie manners and doggie social skills is just as important as learning to walk on lead and sitting for their dinner.
Puppies need to be socialised with both people and other dogs, so they go up to be well behaved members of your family and society in general. Dogs need to learn how to behave in all sorts of situations so they can grow up to be well adjusted dogs. Ridgebacks are Aloof by nature. This should not be confused with being timid, it merely means they will stand back and assess the situation before getting involved. When meeting a new person or new dog they will watch a little bit, work out if the new person / dog is friendly and someone they want to meet. Once they have made that decision they will approach the new person/dog in their own time. A Ridgeback will need to make friends with you, you cannot force them to be friends if they don’t want to.
Many vets run Puppy Parties for young puppies and these are excellent for socialising you puppy. As they are run at the vets, they are safe environments for puppies that have only had their first vaccinations. The more positive experiences your puppy has the better equipped it will be to deal with new and strange things that will happen in its life time.
Young puppies are very inquisitive and will explore new things. Encourage them but don’t force them. Let them explore new environments and meet new people in their own time. It can be helped by having a new person holding treats and giving the puppy some. The puppy will then think new people are nice and not scary. If you are in a new environment, say a noisy shopping centre, just wait until the puppy has settled down and isn’t afraid, then give them a treat. Don’t reward the ‘I’m scared’ behaviour as you are not reassuring the puppy but you are rewarding them for being scared. Instead if you can, get them to do something like a sit and then reward that.
Make sure your puppy meets lots of different people even if it only sitting in its crate when you have people visiting. If the puppy is scared, don’t force them. Sometimes having the new person ignore the puppy is the best way. The puppy will take the time to size up the new person and make the first move when it is ready. This also applies to adult dogs. Introductions need to be on the dogs terms and not forced by the human side.
Dogs have a different body language to us humans. Watch your dog around other dogs and you will get many cues into their behaviour. Tails carried high in the air signify assertiveness or dominance. Tails carried tight under their bodies can mean they are afraid or unsure. Holding their head up high and staring at another dog or standing over the other dog means assertiveness or dominance. Holding the head low and looking away means submission, as does licking the inside of the other dogs mouth (puppies do this to their mother). You can learn to anticipate your dogs possible behaviour by its body language and use this to change the outcome. For example if approaching another dog, don’t let it stare at the other dog. Break the eye contact before it becomes a staring match which could end up a growling match.
Many of your dogs behaviours, like the way they play games are hard wired into their genetic makeup. Things like hunting games, chasing games, herding games and retrieving games, are part of the dogs breed history and are instinct. Ridgebacks are no different, their games can involve body slamming, chasing down their playmate and wrestling. Remember they are or were a hunting hound that needed to chase their prey down and hold it until the hunter arrived. This style of play is normal and your puppy displaying this is not being dominant, it is just being a Ridgeback.
It is important that puppies learn to behave around other dogs and that all experiences are good ones. Don’t let our puppy or dog be around aggressive dogs. If your puppy or dog is attacked, they could get hurt, scared or become so fearful they become ‘fear aggressive’ themselves. It’s the ‘I’ll get you so you don’t get me’ thing. All socialisations should be with dogs you know are safe, so they are positive ones.