The method of positive reinforcement is something I have already repeated numerous times in other articles I have written. Here I thought I would explain it a little more in detail and point out some important issues when doing this.
Positive reinforcement is something that practially all modern dog trainers are using and it is widely known to be the most effective way to train your dog. It is basically about rewarding your dog for good behavior and ignoring it for bad behavior. This has shown to be very effective and much more gentle to the dog than outdated humane methods consisting of physical ´punishments or shock collars. Positive reinforcment makes the dog do the right thing because it is rewarded by attention, play or eventually a treat.
It is natural for a dog to want to please you, and the positive response she gets when doing the “right thing” makes it easier for her to remember what she is learning and it also helps the memory. For example if you would like to teach your dog the command “down” and you use positive reinforcement you will allow your dog to use her own head, and develop her own thinking. This will make it easier to teach her other more difficult commands later on. Using a more harsh direct method to teach this command (like pushing the dog down repeatedly) will not allow your dog to use her own head, and neither will she get any positive association to the command you are teaching.
Some important points to make this training easier:
– Use enjoyable rewards. It is important to make the rewards enjoyable to your dog and keep them interesting. A dog will often get bored with a routine, so a pat on the head and a “good boy” is not going to work for very long (most dogs don’t even like a pat on the head). Use rewards that your dog really enjoys and vary them a little bit. You could use a treat once and the next time affection or a fun game and then a different treat again. Make it fun for your dog. Also figure out what your dog enjoys the most. Some dogs will go crazy over a liver treat where as others are not big eaters and would rather be rewarded by a game or affection.
When it comes to food awards, you simply need to find out what your dog really likes by experimenting with different types of food treats. One interesting thing here is that many trainers have noted that dogs often respond better when treats are given sporiadically instead of predictably. This seems to keep the dog interested and exited as she does not know what she is going to get. Like mentioned above, it prevents the dog from getting bored with the treat. Another thing when it comes to food treats. Take care so that your dog does not gain too much weight with all this extra food. There are some good low calorie dog treats, should this be necessary.
The bottom line here is that the reward (whether it is food, affection or a game) must be something your dog really looks forward to.
– The right timing is very important. When your dog performs an action (like sitting down) you must reward her immidiately when she has done it. This because the dog must associate performing the command with the reward. If you give her the reward a minute later then your dog will not understand why it gets rewarded. Using your voice can also work really well. If you use a happy exited voice and say YES just as the dog has performed the command this will give your dog a positive association with doing “the right thing”. Some people using so called clickers to do this. They “click” just as the dog performs the command and then the dog knows it has done the right thing.
Whichever method you use, Clicker or your voice, consistancy is the key to success. If you say YES, well done after your dog obeys the command then you should always be doing this. The dog will also associate the YES with a treat coming real soon.
– Always use the same command for the same action. Dogs truly are intelligent creatures (well most of them anyway) but they still do not speak English. However they will associate a certain command with a certain action. When you teach a dog a command, such as sit, come, don’t jump etc. you must stick to these commands and don’t use different words for the same action. Otherwise the dog will become confused and will not understand what to do. If you always use the command “dont jump” when the dog is jumping on someone, she will learn that she should not jump when you say this. If you would suddenly use the term “get off” instead of don’t jump then your dog would not understand what she is doing wrong.
Correcting your dog.
All you have to do with this kind of training is to ignore the behavior you do not wish to see and praise and reward the dog when it is doing the right thing. Not getting attention is a very powerful correctional tool when it comes to dogs. Dogs hate when they don’t get attention so this is punishment enough for a dog. Important to note is that if you are yelling at a dog or shaking it by the collar you are giving it attention. This might be negative attention but it is still attention and this should be avoided. The dog should only get attention (positive attention) when it is doing the right thing, not when it is doing something wrong. The more positive attention (praise, food, affection) you give her when she does the right thing the better she will connect good behavior with being rewarded.
Sometimes you do have to intervene when your dog does something wrong. Say for example that she is chewing on your furniture. You walk up to her, grab her by the collar and firmly say No. Then you calmly walk her away from there, without looking at her and talking to her. Give her something she is allowed to chew and say “this is for Suzie” you then leave her. This way you clearly state what she may not do and most importantly you give her an alternative by showing her what she is allowed to show. Just avoid giving her attention, firmly say no and show her what to do instead.
I hope you enjoyed this post about positive reinforcement training. I would be very happy to hear from you and your own experiences of this type of dog training.