There are a ‘thousand and one’ different dog training methods. Today, we will investigate our preferred method. Positive reinforcement dog training in our experience is the kindest method. The results are relatively quick and no cruelty is involved what so over.

Remember how happy you were if your parents gave you a dollar for every A on your report card? They made you want to do it again, right? That’s positive reinforcement. Training dogs use a similar methodology.

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Positive reinforcement dog training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do. Because the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools. Use it to shape or change your dog’s behavior.

Rewarding your dog for good behavior sounds pretty simple, and it is! To practice the technique effectively, you need to follow some basic guidelines.

Remember, Timing is Everything!

When using positive reinforcement dog training, correct timing is essential. The reward must occur immediately – within seconds – or your pet may not associate it with the proper action.

For example, if you have your dog sit but reward him after he stands back up, he’ll think he’s being rewarded for standing up.

Using a clicker to mark the correct behavior can improve your timing and also help your dog understand the connection between the correct behavior and the treat.

Remember, Keep it Short!

Dogs don’t understand sentences. “Daisy, I want you to be a good girl and sit for me now” will likely earn you a blank stare. Keep commands uncomplicated and short. The most commonly used dog commands are:

  • watch me
  • sit
  • stay
  • down (which means “lie down”)
  • off (which means “get off of me” or “get off the furniture”)
  • stand
  • come
  • heel (which means “walk close to my side”)
  • leave it

Remember, Consistency is Key!

Everyone in the family should use the same commands; otherwise, your dog will get confused. It might help to post a list of commands where everyone can become familiar with them. A good place to use is the family notice board, the fridge in the kitchen.

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Consistency also means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior. When to use positive reinforcement dog training methods:

The Good & The Bad of It!

The good: Positive reinforcement dog training is great for teaching your dog commands, and it’s also a good way of reinforcing good behavior.

You may have your dog sit –

(i) before letting him out the door (which helps prevent door-darting)

(ii) before petting him (which helps prevent jumping on people)

(iii) before feeding him (which helps teach him good meal-time manners)

Give him a pat or a “Good dog” for lying quietly by your feet, or slip a treat into a Kong-type toy when he’s chewing it instead of your shoe.

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The bad: Be careful that you don’t inadvertently use positive reinforcement to reward unwanted behaviors.

If you let your dog outside every time he barks at a noise in the neighborhood, you’re giving him a reward (access to the yard) for behavior you want to discourage.

Training him with timely positive reinforcement treats and/or praise will rid him of this bad behavior.

Shaping Behavior

It can take time for your dog to learn certain behaviors. You may need to use a technique called “shaping”. This means reinforcing something close to the desired response and then gradually requiring more from your dog before he gets the treat.

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For example, if you’re teaching your dog to “shake hands,” you may initially reward him for lifting his paw off the ground.

The second stage could be a reward for lifting his paw higher and then for touching your hand. When he allows you to hold his paw another reward should inspire him.

And finally, for actually “shaking hands” with you he should be smothered with hugs and praise and his favorite treat.

Types of Rewards

Positive reinforcement dog training can include food treats, praise, petting, or a favorite toy or game. Since most dogs are highly food-motivated, food treats work especially well for training.

  • A treat should be enticing and irresistible to your pet. Experiment a bit to see which treats work best for your pet.
  • It should be a very small (pea-size or even smaller for little dogs), soft piece of food so that he will immediately gulp it down and look to you for more.
  • Don’t give your dog something he has to chew or that breaks into bits and falls on the floor.
  • Keep a variety of treats handy so your dog won’t become bored getting the same treat every time. You can carry the treats in a pocket or fanny pack.
  • Each time you use a food reward, you should couple it with a verbal reward (praise). Give your dog a treat.
  • If your dog isn’t as motivated by food treats, a toy, petting, or brief play can be very effective rewards
  • When to give treats.
  • When your pet is learning a new behavior, reward him every time he does the behavior. This is called continuous reinforcement.
  • Once your pet has reliably learned the behavior, you want to switch to intermittent reinforcement, in which you continue with praise, but gradually reduce the number of times he receives a treat for doing the desired behavior.
  • At first, reward him with the treat four out of every five times he does the behavior. Over time, reward him three out of five times, then two out of five times, and so on, until you’re only rewarding him occasionally.
  • Continue to praise him every time– although once your dog has learned the behavior, your praise can be less effusive, such as a positive but quiet, “Good dog”.
  • Use a variable schedule of reinforcement so that he doesn’t catch on that he only has to respond every other time. Your pet will soon learn that if he keeps responding, eventually he’ll get what he wants– your praise and an occasional treat.

Caution! Don’t decrease the rewards too quickly. You don’t want your dog to become frustrated.

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By understanding positive reinforcement dog training, you’ll see that you’re not forever bound to carry a pocketful of goodies. Your dog will soon be working for your verbal praise. He wants to please you and knows that, occasionally, he’ll get a treat, too.

Restarting Clicker Training

Question: I have been clicker training my young puppy for a few weeks now and he will do anything for a treat, but when I try to ask for a “sit” when I haven’t got a treat, he doesn’t always respond.

Sometimes he throws himself into a “down” rather than a “sit”, and when I withhold the click he gets frustrated and starts barking. I then go and get a treat and start again and he “sits” immediately. How can I wean him off treats to get him to do what I want?

Answer: Training expert Sharon Menzies says: You are not alone in finding the transition from food-in-the-hand to no-food difficult, and this is not just a clicker training problem.

Re-start your training with your puppy, bearing in mind the following suggestions.

It can help to hold both the food and the clicker in the same hand. Load a few treats in your palm behind the clicker and leave the delivery hand empty.

You can use either hand for the clicker and food but make sure you regularly change hands to keep your dog guessing. Click for the behavior you wish to reward then take a piece of food in your free hand and deliver it to your dog.

Once you think that your dog understands the behavior you are working on, place your treat box close at hand on a table, keep your hands in the same neutral position, click for the behavior, and reach for the food from your box.

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When you are satisfied that your dog can cope with this, start to use random reinforcement.

Random Reinforcement

Watch your dog carefully and only click and reward for the best examples of the behavior. These could be the fastest, the straightest or whatever element you are working on.

Or, simply decide that you are going to ask for two or three repetitions before clicking. You might end up only clicking for six out of 10 repetitions, and your dog begins to get used to the fact that not all attempts are good enough for a reward.

He also learns that the rewards are still there if he works harder for them. If you are happy with a behavior but decide not to click, use your voice to praise briefly. That way he will learn that praise can also be part of the reward system.

Rinse and repeat!

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