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Using Positive Reinforcement Techniques for Dogs in Training
Are you using positive reinforcement methods to train your dog? Most dog training experts will tell you that positive reinforcement techniques for dogs are the most compassionate and practical way to train your dog.
You might think that the method has a rather stylish name but the theory is actually quite simple: it means that you reward your dog for behavior that you would like to see repeated and you ignore the behavior that you don’t like.
In years gone by, there were popular dog-training techniques that were, quite frankly, despicable: inflicting physical pain or acts of intimidation (such as hanging up an aggressive dog by its collar) or barbaric methods of “opposition therapy”, such as using a shock collar to control excessive barking.
How does Positive Reinforcement Training work?
Your dog has a natural instinct to please you. In positive reinforcement training, the lessons you teach tend to “ingrain” more (and are more significant for your dog) when he’s able to figure out for himself what you’re asking. When you’re using positive reinforcement training, you’re giving your dog the opportunity to use his own brain.
Ways to Facilitate the Training Process
Use Worthwhile Rewards
A dog will pretty soon lose interest in a routine pat on the head or a “Good boy!” or “Good girl!” praise. Most dogs don’t actually like being patted on the head anyway. Have you noticed how they flinch and shut their eyes when they see a hand descend towards their head?
Use tempting inducements for good behavior to keep your dog’s learning at a high standard of quality. Enticements such as physical affection and food treats are referred to by dog trainers as “primary incentives”. Most dogs will see these as significant rewards and they will respond strongly and dependably to them.
Get Your Timing Right
When your dog obeys your command, you must identify or “mark” the good behavior that you’re going to reward him for. This is so that, when he receives that treat in his mouth, he will understand exactly what behavior he performed to earn himself that reward.
People sometimes use a clicker for this – a small, sound-making device that makes a distinct “click” sound when pressed. You click the clicker at the precise moment at which the dog performs the desired behavior; for example, if you command your dog to sit, you would sound the clicker just as his bottom touches the ground. You could also give a vocal response to identify the good behavior: just saying “That’s it!” in a happy, enthusiastic tone of voice should do just fine.
Remember to deliver the treat after the identifier (the “mark”) and make sure that you use the identifier consistently. If you only sometimes use the clicker or say “That’s it!”, it won’t have any implication for your dog when you do use it. He needs the opportunity to learn what that identifier means (i.e., that he’s done something correctly every time he hears the identifier and, consequently, a treat can very shortly be expected). So don’t deviate from your chosen identifier.
Be Consistent with your Training Commands
Before you start teaching your dog a command, you must make a decision on what verbal signal you’re going to be giving him and then stick to it. For example, when you’re training your dog not to jump on you, just say “No jump!”. Randomly commanding him to “Get down”, “Get off” or “stop jumping” will just confuse him; settle on one phrase and stick with it.
Not even the smartest of dogs can understand human language; they need to be taught, through diligent repetition, the actions that identify with a particular phrase. Your dog will have a much better rate of obedience if you use one particular phrase every time you wish him to execute a certain behavior for you.
How to Reward Your Dog Fittingly
All dogs have their preferred displays of physical affection and favorite treats. Some will jump up and down for a snippet of dried sausage, while others that are not big eaters might prefer to be rewarded with a favorite game or some show of affection from you. Each dog has its own specific level of energy and expressiveness, just as we humans do.
The Best Ways to Stroke Your Dog
Dogs typically love to have their chests gently scratched (between the forelegs); scratching the lowest area of the back (just before the tail starts) is also a winner. You can target the ears, too: gently rub the ear flap between your finger and thumb or scratch the ear gently at the base.
What Treats to Give Your Dog
As far as food treats are concerned, it won’t be difficult to establish what your dog likes. Just experiment with different food treats until you discover one that he goes crazy for.
Trainers have had an interesting observation when it comes to food: they found that dogs respond most reliably to training commands when they are given treats intermittently, rather than foreseeably. Treating dogs sporadically seems to keep them on their toes and also makes them more interested in what might be on offer. It keeps them from becoming bored with the food rewards and from making a conscious decision to ignore a treat.
How to Correct Your Dog Effectively
What is great about using positive reinforcement techniques for dogs in training is that you don’t need to do anything that might be bothersome or distressful. You won’t be required to put any complicated, troublesome correctional ideas into practice. Thankfully, you won’t ever need to deliver any harsh punishments either.
When you’re dealing with positive reinforcement training, all you need to do is ignore the behavior that you don’t wish to see repeated. Denying your dog attention will be enough to make him feel pretty wretched. (Remember, you’re deliberately ignoring him.) This is what makes the positive reinforcement method such a highly-effective correctional tool.
In contemporary dog training, the belief is that one should completely ignore an incorrect response to a training command. There should be no reinforcement from us at all. There should not even be a verbal correction. (To some dogs, even such negative attention is preferable to no attention at all.) The dog will then stop the behavior of his own accord.
The more of a happy fuss you make over him when he does get it right, the clearer he will make the connection between a particular behavior that evokes no response at all, and another behavior (the correct one) that delivers enormous amounts of positive attention from you.
Hopefully, this information on using positive reinforcement techniques for dogs has enriched your understanding of which techniques and attitudes are most helpful to use when training your dog. It is, of course, a rather complex subject. One should try to discover as much about effective dog training techniques as possible.
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This downloadable Manual focuses on preventing and overcoming dog behavior problems, as well as obedience training and “tricks”. It covers a wide variety of topics in great detail. Overall, it’s a priceless Manual for dog owners everywhere.
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