What is Positive Reinforcement Training?

The latest canine cognition studies confirm reward-based training is the most effective way to train dogs. It’s also the most fun for dogs as well as people. Here is a quick overview of key principles.

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want

  • It’s easier to train a dog to do something than not to do something. Correcting a dog for doing something wrong does not help your dog understand what you do want. For example, instead of trying to train your dog not to bark and lunge, train an incompatible behavior such as Sit and Watch Me.
  • Reward behavior you want from your dog. When your dog greets you calmly, give her attention. When she walks nicely on a leash, continue the walk. When he sits politely, give him his food bowl.
  • Stop rewarding the behavior you don’t want. When you identify a behavior you want to stop, try to figure out what the dog gets from the behavior and remove that reward.  When your dog barks excessively or jumps on you, it’s to get your attention. So remove your attention. Yelling at a dog for barking doesn’t stop the behavior; you just sound like you’re joining your dog in barking, so the dog barks more. If your dog jumps up and you yell and push her away, it looks to him like you’re playing a game, so she keeps jumping on you. In both of these cases, you have rewarded your dog’s undesirable behavior with your attention. Instead, as much as possible, ignore your dog when he does things you don’t want him to do. This works wonders for most behavior issues.

Positive Reinforcement Training Strengthens your Bond with your Dog

  • Positive reinforcement training gives you and your dog a common language so you can communicate more easily. Dogs love training sessions, not only for the treats, but also because it helps them understand what you want from them, which relieves a lot of stress from both of you.
  • Reinforcement doesn’t always have to be food. It can be praise, petting, a toy, playing fetch, going outside, or anything else she really likes.
  • The only ”punishment” you need to use is withdrawing your attention or withholding something the dog wants. For example, if your dog tries to run past you to go outside for a walk when you open the door, shut the door. He does not get to go outside until he is calm.

Tips for Applying Positive Reinforcement Training to Solve Behavior Issues

  • Catch your dog being good. Most people only pay attention to their dogs when they’re doing something wrong. For example, instead of correcting your dog for barking, reward your dog with your attention for being calm and quiet.
  • Be proactive. Take action to prevent your dog from doing what you don’t want her to do. Give your dog a bone to chew on before he starts whining. Ask your dog to sit and watch me before he starts barking and lunging. Give her alternatives to her usual behavior.

Want to learn how to train your dog with positive reinforcement? Reach out to Eileen!

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