Using the Positive Reinforcement Method to train your dog

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Positive Reinforcment Dog Training

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 This has shown to be very effective and much more gentle to the dog than outdated humane methods consisting of physical ´punishments or shock collars.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.

Positive Dog Training Happy dog and happy girl
Positive Dog Training
Happy dog and happy girl

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.

dog high fivePositive reinforcement training is a very simple way to train a dog. There are nothing complex about and no harsh punitive measures are used. The theory behind it is very easy to follow.

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.

If you have any questions or suggestions please leave them below.

Comments 10

  • Positive reinforcement dog training is certainly a well covered topic in the dog training world, and we have to remember that it is not the dogs that we are trying to “teach” but the owners, and this can be difficult. You cover some great information in your article with out crossing the line of “how to teach specifics” . Dogs, however are way easier to teach then their owners and I find that People that are new to dog training need easy to follow steps.. maybe bulleted points. It is also important to address that the owner needs to be the most interesting thing when training, whether it is through high value treats, a special toy or attention.
    I know this is not the article for it, but I always recommend new dogs being crate trained, as this may come in handy if/when the dog becomes over stimulated and needs a time out.
    Thank You for your article. Dogs need all the help they can get with their new owners. Is the dog in the photo yours? There are so many ill advised people that have pitts and pitt mixes that certainly could use some help.

    • Hi Shelley and thank you for your input. Like you mention dogs are not difficult to teach. The thing people needs to understand is that dogs are dogs and people are people. We need to show them what we want them to do (or not to do) in a way that they understand. What might seem very logic to us might not be logic at all to our dogs. Crate training can certainly be helpful when training a dog although it should not be used as a punishment. The dog/puppy must not associate the crate as a punishment.

      The dog on the photo is not mine. Unfortunately I do not have a dog for the moment as I am away from home several day a week due to my work.

  • Hi Jojo!

    I got this friend whose dog is always messing around at home, chewing the sofa and throwing things on the floor because he’s very nervous and the rooms are not too wide.

    I was looking for some tips to give him so that they can improve the behaviour of their furry ball, and these are very useful!

    Positive reinforcement sounds very effective, I think this will help him a lot! Thanks for sharing it! 😉

    • Yes, positive reinforcement is really the way to go when it comes to dog training. It is both a gentle and effective method. When it comes to your friend’s dog, there could be different reasons as to why he is soo nervous. First of all. Does he get enough exercise? Dogs who do not get enough exercise tend to become both nervous and destructive. Is this dog trained in obedience? Does he follow commands or does he ignore his owners? When a dog does not obey it is often because the owner has not established him/herself as the packleader. A dog follows their leader and if you have not made clear that you (the owner) is the leader then he won’t obey you. When the dog know who is the leader and knows that the responsibility of “the pack” is not on him but on his owner he will relax and become a lot calmer and less destructive.

      You (or your friend) is more than welcome to get back to me and I will see what I can do to help you.

      Good luck

      Jojo

  • Dogs absolutely respond better to positive reinforcement. We have two dogs – a mini schnauzer and an Australian cattle dog. We didn’t formally train them as puppies and your article is right…they want to please. They knew when they did something wrong from the tones of our voices. Although they could use a little training on “stay” and “drop it” for safety’s sake. We’ll have to try positive reinforcement on those two commands. Question for you: how do I train my dog to stop eating poop? Its a disgusting habit. When we catch her doing it, she’ll “drop it” until we turn our backs and she goes right back to eating. Eww!

    Thanks.
    Alyssa

    • Hi Alyssa,

      you have really understood what it is all about. Positive Reinforcement will make a dog eager to please and thus it will be motivated to do the right thing. Just changing the tone of your voice and turning your back on your dog when it is doing something bad (dogs hate to be ignored and love attention) is really effective as well.

      Poop eating is a big problem for many dog owners and yes, it is a disgusting habit.

      I have written a post titled:”How to stop my dog from eating poop“. Check it out and see if this could help you, otherwise just get back to me and I will see what I can do to help.

      I wish you good luck!

      Jojo

  • I have a 6 years old border collie, I bought her from a farmer in Kent UK when she was a puppy. Apparently the farmer beats his dogs because when we brought her home she was very scared and had bruises and wounds all over her body. Jessie is a very keen dog, she learns quickly but we can not teach her to stop barking at strangers. We tried everything, ignoring her only works for a while, we took her to a professional dog trainer but that didn’t work either.

    • Sheepdogs like the Border Collie barks to warn for dangers such as predators and thus for them this is a natural behavior and sometimes a little difficult to get rid of. It is certainly possible though. The dog needs to learn when it is ok to bark and when to stop. I suggest you take a look at this post: How to stop dog barking. Check it through and tell me what you think. I will be more than happy to help you. Just write another comment here or to admin@dogtrainingeasily.com or jojo@dogtrainingeasily.com

      I wish you good luck.

      Jojo

  • I think positive reinforcement is really important not only for dogs, but children too. You do a really good job not only explaining how to use positive reinforcement, but also what to do if your dog is doing something you don’t want, which I think is important. This is a great article and I hope all dog owners read this or at least something similar.

    • Thank you, you are absolutely right, this is the way I raise my children. Encouragement is really very important, it builds confidence and gives motivation and lust to continue working.

      As for other dog owners, if you can help me to spread this post, it would be great, then many more people will get learn from it.

      Cheers,

      Jojo

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