TRAINING THE CHINESE SHAR-PEI – Updated 2015
The Chinese Shar Pei is a hearty breed. They are often described as stubborn, headstrong, and difficult to train. The truth is, they are great companions and can be quite fun to train to a very high level! However, they do not typically respond well to aversive training methods, which rely on physical corrections to attempt to teach the dog what to avoid. So their ‘difficult-to-train’ reputation may have originated from trainers attempting to use force, which was not inherently motivating. Luckily, modern training techniques strive to enhance our relationships with our dogs, and shar pei respond quite well to reward-based training.
The first thing you need to know about training your puppy is to start right away. Puppies are learning from DAY ONE! It is always best to start them off learning the good stuff. Off-Leash puppy classes are the most efficient way for puppies to learn bite inhibition (to not use excessive pressure when they grab something with their mouths), impulse control (patience), and good household manners. Dogs, just like kids, learn faster when they’re young. It’s never too early to start, and puppies do not need to have all of their vaccines before beginning training, they simply need to be on a vaccine schedule (have their FIRST shots). The risk of developing behaviour problems due to lack of socialization is far greater than the risk of exposure to disease in a well-managed puppy class.  A good puppy class will have at least some off-leash play time, and will introduce training exercises into the off-leash play, using play itself as a main reward for good behaviours. Off-leash play with other puppies and perhaps calm adult dogs is especially critical for shar pei puppies, because without sufficient positive early socialization, they have been known to become aggressive with other dogs as they get older.
Dr. Ian Dunbar’s latest recommendation is that puppies should meet 100 different people within the first 8 weeks of life (while they are with their breeder), and an ADDITIONAL 100 people between 8 and 12 weeks. These interactions should be positive and allow the puppies to approach people on their terms and be rewarded with food or play. Puppies should continue to meet new people each week throughout their first year. Puppy class can help, but will not fulfill this requirement alone.
At home, the primary concern of most families is house training. Shar pei are generally a clean breed, and take to house training quite easily. If they are put on a regular food and water schedule, confined when not supervised, and taken outside frequently, they usually only have minimal accidents in the home.
ADULT DOG TRAINING
If your dog is a little older, a fun training class can help refine those good manners, and greatly enhance your bond. So where do you go for training? Reward-based methods, including clicker training, lure-reward training, and other positive reinforcement modalities are based on scientific learning principles, and focus on the dog as a member of a team (usually the family). In the past, dogs were workers or employees of the family, with a specific job to do: protect the sheep, guard the house, pull the sled, etc. These days, dogs are much more a part of the family, and their “jobs” usually involve keeping the couch warm and playing with the kids. You want to find a trainer who uses family-friendly training tools and techniques to help your dog be successful at family life.
FINDING A TRAINER
Here is a list of questions you may want to ask a potential trainer:
- Where and for how long did you go to school to learn how to train dogs?
- Are you a member of any professional organizations?
- How long have you been training dogs?
- What methods of training do you use?
- What type of training equipment will I need?
- What will the classes cover?
- How much will it cost?
- Can my kids come to class?
- Do you offer other types of training?
- Do you have any references I may contact?
Avoid any trainer who uses out-dated, aversive tools such as choke chains, pinch or prong collars, or electronic shock collars. Beware of trainers who use out-dated terminology, such as “dominance” and “pack leader.” These terms are based on two disproven studies of captive wolves. The training advice that comes out of this flawed wolf-pack model does not even apply to actual wild wolf packs, and certainly not domestic dogs. If a trainer uses these terms, it is clear evidence that he or she has not kept up with the science of training and behaviour in the last 20-30 years. Compulsion training often results in the development of aggression in shar pei, and in other breeds as well. It is not worth the risk, especially when there are much more effective (and FUN) ways to train your dog!
Reward-based Training simply means helping the dog learn the appropriate behaviour, and then rewarding him for doing it. Modern, educated trainers will use a number of reinforcers to reward the dog’s good behaviour. The methods used are based on a healthy relationship of mutual trust and respect between the dog and his/her family, and utilize universal learning patterns: Operant and Classical Conditioning. Basically, if you do this, something good happens and if you do not do this, nothing good happens. Dogs, being opportunistic, will only repeat a behaviour if there is something in it for them. These training methods are also family-friendly and don’t come with a “do not try this at home” disclaimer. Kids can often safely participate when they are old enough to follow simple directions.
Clicker Training is a form of Positive Training that uses a clicker to tell the dog exactly which behaviour is the correct one. You can use a clicker to capture behaviours you like when the dog does them naturally, or you can use it in conjunction with other forms of positive reinforcement. The “Lure-Reward” method uses a lure, generally a treat, to help the dog figure out what it is that we want him to do. For example, holding a treat over a dog’s nose and moving backward slowly will generally get him to sit. The only potential problem with this type of training is the dog can learn to work for the food and not for you. This is easily avoided by appropriately placing the reward as a consequence of the behaviour within the first 10 repetitions. When we teach a new behaviour, in most cases we will be fading out the food as “lure” by the end of the first lesson.
Most dog owners want a well-behaved pet, not a showpiece that only listens when wearing a special collar or when treats are presented. The best trainers will focus on building the relationship between the owner(s) and the dog. We must open up those lines of communication and teach the owner and dog how to listen to each other and trust each other. Then we can focus on teaching good behaviours.
Being a ‘positive’ trainer is not the same as being a permissive trainer. The dog does not get to do whatever he wants to. He must demonstrate acceptable behaviour in order to get his reward. Rewards include privileges, anything the dog wants, not only food. Undesirable behaviour must be prevented, ignored, or interrupted and redirected to a more desirable behaviour. The “bad” behaviours do not get the dog what he wants; therefore they simply diminish and go away.
- Encourage and reward behaviour that you like.
- Prevent, ignore or redirect behaviour that you do not like.
- When teaching a new behaviour, get the behaviour first. Once the dog will predictably offer the behaviour, then add the cue (ie: sit).
- If your dog has developed a bad habit, then he is getting reinforced for it. Even negative attention is attention! To stop a dog from doing something inappropriate, you must teach him/her what you would prefer!
COMMON QUICK FIXES
Jumping on people: You must teach your dog how you would prefer that she say hello. If your dog knows how to sit, ask for a sit as a person approaches to greet her. Reward her for sitting. You might add a hand target (nose-fist bump) into your greeting. So, as the dog approaches a person, tell her to “sit” and “touch” as the person reaches out their hand. Don’t forget to reward her quickly when she does is right!
Barking: To teach a dog to shush, first teach him to speak on cue. If you try to yell “QUIET!” at him when he is barking at something, you are just barking with him! So, teach a reliable “speak” on cue first. The final step of the exercise of to “shush.”
Walking on leash: Rather than teaching your dog to stop pulling, which presumes she must first pull on the leash, simply go back to the beginning and teach her it is better to follow you. With your dog sitting in front of you, step backward one step and feed a treat as she follows you. Continue to step backward, and reward your dog for following you. After 5-10 repetitions, pivot-turn away from your dog and take one step. Reward her for following at your side. Continue this gradually increasing, and then varying the number of steps you take between treats.
Coming when called: The most important thing to remember while your dog is learning to come when called is to ensure that it is always rewarding to do so. Practice calling him every day when you know he will come, and make it worth his while. You can also use that hand target to get him to come all the way to you and touch your hand with his nose!
Additional Resources & References:
Don’t Shoot The Dog by Karen Pryor © 1999
Family Friendly Dog Training by Patricia McConnell, PhD & Aimee Moore © 2007
Positive Perspectives by Pat Miller © 2004
Any books or videos by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Michelle Douglas is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC). She is the owner of The Refined Canine, LLC (www.refinedcanine.com), offering group classes, private training, and behavior consulting in southern CT. Michelle is featured in the books Top Tips from Top Trainers (©2010 TFH Publications) and The Dog Trainer’s Resource, The APDT Chronicle of the Dog Collection (©2006 Dogwise), and has written articles for Dr. Jeff Vidt’s website. She holds professional memberships in the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Family Paws Parent Education, is an AKC STAR PUPPY & Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, and a Mentor Trainer for Animal Behavior College. Michelle is a past President of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest professional organization for pet dog trainers worldwide. Michelle lives with her husband, two children, and (currently) two shar pei and a pit bull.