Dog training—is it best left for professionals? Is it possible to successfully train our dogs at home? The answer is a resounding yes!
If you’re wondering if you should get a dog, then dog training will likely be forefront in your mind. You can begin training your pup at just a few weeks of age, start by knowing how to socialize a dog with the world around her. However, there are common mistakes that pet parents make when training a puppy. One of these is using negative reinforcement rather than positive reinforcement for good behavior.
What is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?
Positive reinforcement training utilizes rewards for positive behavior during the training process. It can be likened to our parents giving us money for good grades on our report cards. When you received a dollar or more for each “A” on your report card, you wanted to make sure you achieved more “A” grades in the future, right? Dogs thrive on positive reinforcement. When you train your dog with positive reinforcement, it involves rewarding his good behavior with praise or a treat .
Pet parents must be careful to properly provide positive reinforcement when a dog behaves the way you wish. You must be careful regarding negative behavior. Dogs don’t understand scolding—they just know you’re not happy with them, and you can’t explain to a dog why the behavior is inappropriate. You have to learn as a pet parent how to maintain your cool when a dog doesn’t provide the desired behavior, and you have to learn how and when to provide the best dog treats or other rewards so that they will mimic the desired behavior again and again. Sounds tedious, right? Not at all! Dogs do need repetition in order to properly behave, but they do catch on fairly quickly.
Teaching your dog the behavior you want works much better over time through positive reinforcement training methods. However, you must be consistent with the rewarding process.
1. Timing is essential.
Your dog must learn to associate proper behavior with a reward. That means you must react to the good behavior in a prompt manner. In fact, experts tell us that a reward for good behavior must occur within seconds of the dog’s actions in order for her to understand that this is the behavior my parent wants.
For instance, you are working on getting your dog to sit and stay. Now, you may offer praise when Fido sits down for a second or two, but if you don’t provide a treat or dog toy until after the dog moves or stands back up, then the dog will think she’s being rewarded for getting up and walking over to you.
You must make sure that you allow the dog to carry out the behavior, then praise and treat at the right time.
2. Commands should always be short and to the point.
Research shows that dogs typically pay attention to words that are only one or two syllables. Dogs don’t understand our language. In fact, they have to work to understand what sounds (because that’s what they are picking up on – not the word itself) mean as well as what behavior you want to be associated with the sounds.
This is why most commands are one or two syllables—”sit,” “stay,” “come.” Choose commands that are short, to the point, and stay consistent. Your dog is eager to learn, but you have to teach her at her level.
3. Consider how we teach dogs to sit or to lie down.
Experts tell us to use body language to show the dog what we want them to do. If you want a dog to sit, show her a treat while she is standing. Move the treat from in front of her eyes, slowly lifting it upwards so that she has to lower the bottom half of her body to continue to see it. Say “sit” while you do this. When she lowers her bottom and fully sits on the floor, repeat “sit,” and give her time to stay in that position. NOW, you can praise and treat her. You want to repeat this until she will automatically lower her rear to the floor and sit when you say the word and offer a treat.
Other short and simple commands you want to teach your dog include:
- leave it
- off (as in getting off the furniture)
- watch (instead of saying “look at me”)
- drop (this is a great command for positive reinforcement)
4. Always, always be consistent.
If you are only one member of your family working to teach Fido commands, you should insist that your family members all use the same commands. This is especially key when kids interact with your dog. Let your kids observe you as you work with Fido, and then remind them to use the same commands as you do. With younger children, they will often imitate your actions automatically. With teens, you may have to reward both them AND Fido for doing as you request! However, it is extremely important that everyone in your household uses the same commands as you do with Fido.
You yourself must also commit to rewarding only good behavior and reacting properly to negative behavior. Never yell at your dog, never use physical punishment, and never show negative emotion toward your dog. If you get frustrated that Fido isn’t picking up commands and good behavior as quickly as you wish, you may have to walk away and work on getting out that frustration in another way. You should never let your dog see you angry due to her behavior. This can be confusing to your dog, and it could cause her to become afraid of you.
5. When should I use positive reinforcement?
For instance, you can have your dog sit at certain times. Have him sit before you open the door to let him out, before you feed him, or before you pet him. This helps to prevent many issues that can be considered bad behavior.
Should you refrain from using the word “no”? Not at all. When an enthusiastic pup jumps up on you or pulls at his leash, it is perfectly okay to say “no” and use proper commands such as “sit” to get the desired behavior. However, you should never physically punish a dog for doing what a dog does. Instead, try to encourage alternative – desired – behavior in these dogs.
Be careful not to give your dog rewards for bad or undesirable behavior. For instance, if your dog barks when she hears something outside, do not let her outdoors. She will learn that if she makes a lot of noise, you’ll let her out into the yard—something she most likely really wants. This is rewarding bad behavior rather than preventing it.
6. There comes a time when you’ll need to “shape” Fido’s behavior.
When you are first working on commands, you will likely offer treats fairly quickly. For instance, Fido sits, so you provide a treat and praise for the desired behavior. However, you have to learn when it is time to use positive reinforcement to “up” the training and desired behavior.
You may want to teach Fido to stay after he learns to sit. He has been training for a few weeks now, and he knows he’ll get a treat if he sits. However, you have to now add “stay” to the command, and you have to allow him to “stay” long enough so that he understands this is a new command in addition to “sit,” which he has already learned. You may also need to utilize “shaping” when you want to teach your dog to shake his hand. You will probably begin by teaching him to lift his paw and touching your hand with his paw. Positive reinforcement works well when taking this approach.
7. What types of treats should I use?
You want to employ something that is small, bite-sized, and fairly soft. You want your dog to keep the focus on you, and the possibility of another treat. For this reason, treats tend to work better than toys as a reward. (However, you CAN use a toy as a reward at the end of the training session.)
You may have to do a little trial and error in order to determine what is the preferred treatment for your dog and your training purposes. Try a few different treats to see which one is your dog’s favorite. This will only serve to increase the likelihood of your dog’s positive behavior.
The size of the treatment should always be fairly small, but smaller dogs need a treat that is basically pea-sized. You want a treat that can be gobbled down fairly quickly so that your dog doesn’t lose focus on the task at hand, which is working on training.
You may want to swap up the treats from time to time. Although your dog may prefer a certain kind of treat, when training is going fairly well, you can always throw in another tasty and different treat from time to time. You don’t want Fido to become bored or to lose interest because he’s burned out on a particular treat.
Try to use praise at the same time that you treat your dog. Speak in an enthusiastic tone when Fido performs in the desired way. Your dog will learn to respond to the positivity of your voice as well as the treat. Remember, our dogs do want to please us.
Will I Need to Always Offer Treats Even After the Dog has Fully Gathered What Behavior I Expect?
You’ll want to do a draw-down of treat-giving. For instance, if the dog does something correctly three times, start to treat two of the three times. As long as Fido is still carrying out the desired behavior, continue only treating for a certain portion of time. (If Fido sits three times, give him a treat two of the three times. If the behavior continues without the third treat, then back it down to one of every three times.) You don’t want your dog to think he will eternally get treats for simply sitting down when you ask. However, no matter how long it’s been since you finished training your dog, it’s always a good idea to occasionally treat him for doing as you command.
Always praise your dog for good behavior whether you treat the behavior or not.
Keep your dog guessing as to how often you’ll provide a treat for desired behavior. Never use a pattern in your reward system. Dogs are smart, and eventually, he’ll figure out that you are providing a treat every other time you give the command.
If you want to dig deep, it’s a good idea to invest in today’s best dog training books to have a handy guide when working towards training a well-behaved dog.
1. Is positive or negative reinforcement better for dog training?
Positive reinforcement training works much better when working with your dog. Dogs want to please their owners, so using positive reinforcement offers more motivation for a dog to do as you command. Negative reinforcement offers many problems for pet parents. You could cause the dog to become afraid of you, or you could reinforce misbehavior with negative reinforcement.
2. Is it possible to train a dog with only positive reinforcement?
Very much so! Dogs tend to respond to positive reinforcement much more readily than they do negative reinforcement.
3. What is the most effective dog training method?
Being consistent is key, but positive reinforcement is the best method for training a dog. Dogs want to please their owners, so using positive reinforcement is best.
4. What are the 2 main steps of positive reinforcement in dogs?
Dogs pay attention to praise and timely treatment of good behavior.