Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
Training your dog is a must, no doubt about that, and using positive reinforcement dog training methods is the best way to do so.
Positive reinforcement is all about praising and treating your dog for every good action and ignoring any unpleasant behaviour. The most popular positive reinforcement dog training method is clicker training because it introduces operant conditioning along with the rewards.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is the foundation of many training techniques. Whether we’re talking about clicker training, model-rival training, relationship-based training or the classic rewards-based training, we are talking about positive reinforcement.
By rewarding your dog for certain behaviours, he will learn that he can do things to make you happy and also receive a tasty treat in exchange.
On the other hand, when you ignore an unwanted behaviour, he realises that he can’t get your attention that way, so he will start doing all the good things he learned. This happens because dogs like to please their owners in general.
The only downside to positive reinforcement is the fact that you may not be able to stop dangerous behaviours if you don’t intervene. Let’s say you go with your dog to the park and he finds something appealing on the ground. If you didn’t train him to not eat everything he finds, you may have a hard time convincing him not to eat the thing he found on the ground without saying a “no” or pulling his leash.
Because of this, you need to make sure that all the negative behaviours can be avoided one way or another, and you need to control his environment as much as possible until he learns.
Positive reinforcement is based on building and maintaining a relationship with your dog. Because dogs are pack animals, they need to feel like they belong somewhere, and that’s exactly what you can do using positive reinforcement.
How to Use Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
For starters, you need to decide what behaviours you want your dog to show. Decide if he’s allowed to sleep on the couch, if he usually stays with you when you eat and if he can go out in the yard whenever he wants.
As every family is different, you can’t work with a fixed set of behaviours. I’ve seen dogs allowed to sleep in their owner’s bed and dogs who weren’t allowed to go on a walk without heeling at all times. It all depends on you and the boundaries you want to set.
Set Your Boundaries
As mentioned, you need to know what your dog is allowed to do and keep it that way. If you try and change the stuff he already learned he will get confused and it will be a long journey to change it.
In general, dogs start learning what they can and can’t do the moment they get home. So if you don’t start training from that moment on, it will be hard to convince him to give up certain behaviours.
Training doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of time, consistency and patience. Getting a new dog is a commitment and you need to make sure you respect the schedules and training sessions you set in order to start seeing improvements. In time, your dog will learn your body language and you will learn his, making the whole training process easier.
Praise His Good Behaviours
Anytime your dog does something you like, make sure to praise him. Be it a delicious treat or a pat on the head, it will make a difference and he will feel acknowledged. In positive reinforcement, everything is about praising, so if you ignore a good behaviour, your dog may not be willing to do it again.
In order to have a very trained pup, you need to start by enforcing the most simple actions. So if your dog sits when you prepare his food and doesn’t jump on your guests when they arrive, you need to enforce that and let him know that he’s doing something good.
During training, make sure to start from the beginning. Teach him the basic dog training command such as sit, wait, get down and stay and then start working towards more complex behaviours.
Use High-Value Rewards
One of the most important aspects of training are rewards. You want to use treats and rewards that will really motivate your dog into learning a new behaviour. Whether we’re talking about our training treats or one of our sausages at the end of the training sessions, your dog will really look forward to learning more commands.
Most dogs are food-driven, meaning that they will do everything they can to get something tasty at any point.
Keep It Fun
Above anything else, dogs like to have fun. Make sure he can see you’re happy with him during training without looking overly excited. You need to learn what makes your dog happy and introduce those little things in your daily routines.
Some dogs like to go on long walks, others like to spend their evenings chewing on a delicious bone they got for being such good boys.
Get Everyone Involved
In order to successfully train your dog using positive reinforcement, you need to make sure that your whole family in on the same page. That they all know what your dog is allowed to do and will apply the same rules.
Even though it can be fun to have something specific for every member of the family, dogs don’t really understand that. Of course, your dog will be able to individually recognise each member of the family, but he won’t understand why sometimes it’s ok to jump on the furniture and other times it’s not.
Positive Reinforcement Training Methods
Because positive reinforcement is the most effective training style, along the time, people have discovered many techniques based on it. Considering the fact the humans have been training dogs at least since the Roman Empire was ruling, the methods we have now have been tested, researched and documented quite a lot.
1. Clicker Training
Clicker training is without a doubt the most effective training method. Because it’s based on operant conditioning, your dog will learn to associate the clicks with good behaviours. As it’s based on rewards, clicker training is without a doubt, the positive reinforcement dog training technique you need.
It’s very straightforward. Your dog performs a command and you click and treat. The click needs to be in perfect timing with the moment he starts performing the action. After that, you can treat him at any time. In our dog training guide, you can see exactly how to use clicker training to teach your dog a lot of awesome commands.
2. Model-Rival Training
The model-rival training method is a little different from the ones we’re used to. Instead of interacting with the dog, the trainer will be interacting with a rival, be it human or dog. The purpose of this is to motivate the dog to learn through observation.
He sees that his rival is being praised for something, so he will try to replicate the behaviour. This method is a little more complicated and it requires more time than the others because the dog will have to use his natural instincts in order to mimic and learn new behaviours. Besides, you and your dog need to have a very strong bond in order for him to feel motivated by his rival.
3. Dominance-Based Training
Although this is not a very effective dog training method, it’s still based on positive reinforcement. It started from the idea that dogs are pack animals and instinctually follow hierarchies. When the dog knows there’s an alpha in his pack, he will try to replicate his behaviour and also please him.
For this method, you and your dog need to have a strong bond, and he needs to consider you the alpha of his pack. It requires a very strict set of rules you and your dog need to follow. For example, your dog should never sit on the couch with you, and you should never get down to his eyes level. It’s all about establishing dominance.
What’s wrong with this method is the fact that it doesn’t teach your dog how he should behave, but rather how he shouldn’t. Needless to say, it can be overwhelming for both of you to live like this. Besides, along the time, scientists discovered that now, dogs don’t rely on pack behaviours as they used to, so it would be best to stick to a more friendly technique.
4. Relationship-Based Training
Even though relationship-based training looks a lot like the dominance-based method, it’s quite different. If dominance-based training requires you to be the alpha of the pack and not allow your dog to be on your level, relationship-based training implies that your dog is your best friend.
This means that you should be able to read his body language and have a mutually beneficial relationship.
In order to avoid unwanted behaviours, you will need to have strict control over the environment your dog lives in. When learning commands for the first time, for example, you need to have a quiet room where your dog will be able to focus on you.
This training method doesn’t have to be used on its own. You can combine it with clicker training and train your pup as you also strengthen your bond with him.
Just as you would praise your kid for helping you around the house, you are praising your dog for being a good boy and showing appropriate behaviours. Positive reinforcement dog training is all about understanding your dog and his needs, and teaching him how the world works in a peaceful and beautiful way.