Positive Reinforcement Training
Training your dog doesn’t have to be complicated. Even though there are many commands to teach and behaviors to correct, there is one thing that all training comes down to –positive reinforcement. Read below to learn the techniques involved with positively reinforcing your dog’s behaviors.
Positive reinforcement is simple. All you are doing is responding to your dog’s behavior to promote the good and ignore the bad. Dogs are very smart animals. They are also motivated. Many owners are surprised how fast their dogs learn when proper reinforcement techniques are used. A dog wants to please its owner and get rewards. Once they understand what it is that you want them to do, they will gladly do it for their reward. Your job is to help them make that connection and reward them when they do.
Rewards What motivates your dog? Some dogs are completely treat and food motivated, some only want the praise and love from their owner. Whatever it is, be ready to provide a reward each and every time your dog does the desired behavior. This means that food rewards need to be small enough that they can be frequently given without negatively impacting your dog’s diet. Too big of food rewards can also cause your dog to become less motivated as they get fuller and less interested in eating. If your dog responds well to your praise, you must provide it every time they do the desired action. Even if it means faking your excitement, you must reinforce every time to drive the point home.
Timing One of the most important aspects to positive reinforcement training is timing. Rewards must come immediately, within seconds, of the correct behavior. Otherwise your dog is unlikely to associate the reward with the correct action. It is very important that a dog is only rewarded if the desired action is the last thing that they did or the thing they are currently doing. This means you must be attentive while training and quick to respond. Otherwise you may miss a chance to positively reinforce.
Owners often fail to consider timing when disciplining their dogs. After coming home and finding a mess their dog made, many owner’s first thought is to yell at the animal. From the dog’s perspective, they are getting yelled at for greeting you as you come home, not for tearing up the carpet two hours ago… In these cases, the best technique is to ignore the negative behavior and be more vigilant in watching for it, so it can be corrected immediately as it happens.
Commands Use short, simple phrases as commands. The longer and more complex of command, the less likely it is that your dog will understand it and relate it to later positive reinforcement. For instance, use “come” instead of “come here” or “down” instead of “get down”. Commands are meant to be understood immediately, even in distracting situations. Everyone involved with training the dog needs to use the same exact commands. Otherwise, the work one person does training the dog can become confused while another person is training. Dogs are very routine driven and follow patterns well. Keeping consistent makes it easier for your dog to learn that an action will be rewarded in a predictable way.
Consistency also means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior. Be careful about accidentally reinforcing a negative behavior. An example of this would be giving a treat to a dog after it stopped barking loudly at neighbors. In your mind you are rewarding the dog for finally being quiet, but in the dog’s mind, he may think you are rewarding the barking he had just finished.
Keep at it and don’t give up on positive reinforcement. It’s a technique that is never too late to try. It may take some patience, but as your dog becomes more and more aware of what actions you desire from it, it will become less dependent on treats and positive reinforcement to do those actions.