If you want your puppy to grow up a model citizen, then you’ll be interested to know that positive reinforcement is making waves in the puppy training world.
What is positive reinforcement training? Does positive reinforcement dog training work? And how do you apply these methods to your pups routine? We’ve got the lowdown on lifting your dog’s spirits, and their skills, with this game-changing method.
Positive reinforcement dog training - what is it?
As a kid, the best way to get us to behave was through money, food or video games. And I’m guessing that wasn’t just our household…
Yep, we all like rewards, and so do our dogs. Which is why positive reinforcement, also known as rewards based training, works so well. Desired behaviors are rewarded, which in turn means your dog is more likely to repeat this desired behavior.
Luckily, our dogs don’t care about their piggy banks, but they do care about fuss, food and a good frolic with a toy. So it’s no surprise these are the common rewards used in this kind of puppy training.
Notably, a positive reinforcement ethos does not include any form of negative reinforcement to teach a dog how to behave. Whether that be fear (through punishment, aggression or loud noises) or pain (shock or prong collars), which are the basis of some other training methods.
Does positive reinforcement dog training work?
A wealth of scientific studies have found that dogs are more at ease, more confident and perform better at tasks when using positive reinforcement based training. So much so, that a 2017 review of the subject suggested that “those working with or handling dogs should rely on positive reinforcement methods and avoid using positive punishment and negative reinforcement as much as possible.” Pretty conclusive there!
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride. All puppy training, even positive reinforcement, requires superhuman levels of empathy, patience and practice.
However, with these 8 top tips, you’ll be equipped with the insights to help your puppy shine... Meaning you can build a brilliant bond with a well-behaved doggo!
1. Timing Matters
To build associations, timing is your best skill. The reward must occur very quickly after a desired behavior, so your pup can be sure to associate it with the action they just performed. So be alert and responsive, but don’t worry if you miss a beat, just keep trying.
Teaching your new puppy to pay attention to you is an invaluable skill. This is the foundation for all your future training sessions, as you’ll be able to ensure they are listening and receptive to what action you’re requesting.
3. Go Slow
Practice makes perfect. Start with the most basic form of what you want and reward from there.
For example, lure your dog into a sit using a closed hand, opening and offering the treat as soon as that little furry butt hits the ground. Layer in a hand signal and a command once your dog gets the idea. If your dog’s getting confused ask yourself - “How can I make this easy to get right?”. Never be afraid to take a step back.
4. Short & Sweet
Short bursts of training are more effective than long study sessions. And keep your commands short too, usually to one word. Anything longer won’t fly with Fido!
Make sure your hard work isn’t being undone by confusing messages. Get everyone in the family on board, using the same techniques and commands. Maybe even add a post-it to the fridge with all your commands on!
6. Make The Right Connections
Be sure to think through your dog’s connections, even when they aren’t necessarily in a training session. If you value a calm dog, giving them a pat, a treat, or a toy for lying quietly by your feet can go a long way. On the other hand, if you let your dog outside every time they bark at noises, you might be inadvertently giving them a reward for something you don’t really want to encourage.
Is your dog doing something you don’t like? Try redirecting them. If that barking is getting excessive, can Fido come and perform a sit for a treat instead? Turning the negative behavior into something they can feel positive about will help shape your dog’s habits and natural inclinations.
8. Treat Right
Most dogs are highly food-motivated, so food based treats work especially well for training.
Experiment a bit to see which kind works best. Bear in mind that you’ll need to use very small amounts, even pea-sized, for puppies.
Some dogs, however, are very prey driven and love nothing more than a game of tug or fetch. While others will take a “good boy” and some fuss over a tug toy any day. So figure what your pup responds best to and use it wisely.
Eventually, as your dog matures and their habits become second nature, you can fade out any edible treats slowly. Your dog will soon be adept at working for your praise, with the occasional treat thrown in for good measure.
Puppy training is a long journey, but one well worth the effort. A dog that’s grown up with positive reinforcement will have a great future ahead of them. Whether they are a guide, a friend or an athlete!
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