Positive Reinforcement Training
Positive Reinforcement Training simply means that you reward for what the behaviour that is desired and ignore any behaviour which is not desired. Dog training based on positive reinforcement is sometimes misunderstood and taken to mean it is only about giving food and treats to the dog when a desired behaviour happens or using food to instigate the required behaviour (commonly known as a bribe). This is actually not quite correct. Anything that the dog or puppy desires can be used as a reinforcer. For example many dogs love to chase a ball, therefore throwing a ball for the dog to chase after he has been quietly lying at your feet is a classic example of positive reinforcement training. Favourite toys, walks, play sessions, pats and attention – anything that the dog is motivated by can be used as a primary reinforcer. Allowing a dog to go free and sniff around can be a great reinforcer after a minute of lovely loose lead walking is another example.
Dogs will learn faster and more effectively using this type of dog training. The most important thing is to not to have too high an expectation from the dog when you first start training any particular exercise. Break each behaviour down into smaller parts and make them achievable. For example, if you are starting to train your dog to sit and stay don’t expect that the dog will stay for 10 minutes with you being at a 10 metre distance away. Train the dog to stay up to five seconds with you standing up to one pace away.
The thing with positive reinforcement training is that it needs to be consistent and timing of the reinforcement needs to be precise. It takes skill to be able to implement effective and positive dog training methods and patience is definitely required. As the dog learns the exercise you are training for, you then reduce the reinforcement in a gradual process until it is no longer required. This is the mistake that many people make, of not fading out the reinforcement which results in the dog only performing the behaviour in the presence of food.
Clicker Training is becoming more and more popular. The clicker is a very distinct short, sharp sound and when given at the exact time the desired behaviour. Firstly, that sound is simply paired with a high value dog treat. The dog then makes the association that every time the click happens a treat is forthcoming. Once that association is made then you click for specific behaviours that the dog performs. The dog very quickly learns to repeat those behaviours in order to get the treat. Once the dog has learnt the behaviour it is then possible to fade out the click and put a word to replace it. Reinforcement becomes very intermittent and this actually strengthens the behaviour you are working on as the dog never knows when that random treat is going to be forthcoming. This is a great way of training your dog as you have no need to use your voice, therefore there is no emotion coming into the training. There is no need to scream or shout and you don’t need to get upset if the dog doesn’t do what you want.
Clicker training is a science and it definitely takes some skill to master so you need to seek out the services of dog training instructors who have qualifications and experience. Anyone can click and treat – the mastery is in the timing and the degree of accuracy of the behaviour you are trying to achieve to improve performance.
Karen Pryor is the person who introduced clicker training to the dog world. Clickers were initially used to train marine animals as there was no other way of training animals in marine parks. Karen used to be a dolphin trainer and used the same principles to training dogs. The clicker is just another tool – it is the principles that are important. You can find an amazing number of resources at her website Karen Pryor Clickertraining.
Training a Puppy vs. Training an Older Dog
There is a big difference in training an 8 week old puppy (for more information go to our Puppy Training page) to a fully grown adult dog that comes from a rescue shelter. A puppy is a clean slate and with professional classes and instructors means you can bring it up with minimal problems. A rescue dog already has a baggage of established behaviours which may or may not be appropriate behaviour (why else would the dog be in rescue?) and will take a different set of dog training abilities and understanding to rectify and modify these behaviours into more desirable behaviours.
Training a puppy ideally will start from the breeder – they will already have been exposing the puppy to some socialisation exercises. Before you even bring the puppy home do some research and find a quality puppy pre-school where the instructors have been specifically trained to run effective puppy classes. Ask for their qualifications and experience, ask to observe the class and if you are happy with what you see then make a booking. When you first bring home that puppy give it a few days to settle in and then take it along to puppy pre-school. This is a critical time for socialisation and many basic training behaviours can be established effectively in these first weeks. Then continue your training through a dog club or private classes for as long as possible – the longer, the better.
Training an older dog which has been owned by someone else may not have been trained during puppyhood and therefore established unwanted behaviours may need modifying. It is possible to do this however you may need the expertise of a more experience trainer. Depending on the dog’s behaviour it may be necessary to have private classes to begin with to iron out some of the problems. An effective instructor will be able to tailor a training programme specifically for you and your dog. Integration into group classes may be possible once the initial ground work has been done. This also will take time and patience on your part.
This Puppy Love DVD features scientist Karen Pryor introducing “Clicker Training,” the pet-friendly way to raise a great family dog. You’ll love what this DVD will do for your new puppy and for you! Great for adopted dogs and shelter dogs, too. From the grandparent and parents down to the kids, everyone can help the new pet learn– Where to sleep; the right place to “go”; good manners around people and other dogs; accepting grooming and pet care; sitting instead of jumping up to greet you; what “is” and “is not” okay to chew; coming when called; cute and easy tricks, and walking on a loose leash, right from the start!
Some Tips for Training
1. If you are not in the best of moods and don’t feel like doing your training time – best NOT to do it! The reason? Dogs pick up on vibes and will not work as well if they sense tension or stress. BEWARE – don’t make this a regular excuse for not doing any dog training! The dog is going to require a lot of time and effort on your part if you want it to grow into a well socialised and well behaved pet – consistent training is the only way to achieve that.
Your dog training is best started from the day you bring him home. You want to begin to establish the rules from the start and then your puppy will start to get his position in the pack. Dogs are a pack animal and your family is their pack. Establish their rank through dog training quickly by teaching them very simple commands and rewarding for correct behaviour. Also show the children how to request simple commands from the dog – sit, for example. But don’t tell your puppy sit, sit, sit and keep repeating the voice command with no action. Best to wait for the puppy to offer the behaviour into the sit position and then giving the voice command ‘sit’ while the action is taking place and then immediately afterwards he gets a treat as a reward for good behaviour. You have just set your puppy up for rewarding and winning behaviour. If you keep repeating a command a few times over and the dog doesn’t respond to this command (because he doesn’t speak English) your dog training is teaching him to ignore you as you are speaking and no action is happening on his/her part. This goes for any type of behaviour you are bringing into your dog training schedule.
Another thing to remember that your young puppies have the attention span of a flea! So make your dog training session brief and no more than five minutes at a time. But if you have the chance to do a few minutes at a time throughout the day this will reinforce the behaviour you want from the dog. Constant repetition is the key! Your puppy or dog training should be bright and happy. Always finish on a positive note, and preferably do a puppy training session just before it is his meal time and use the meal for a reward.
PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE for correct behaviour – using voice pats and treats. Remember, though, when you are training and treating your dog for correct behaviour to account for this when it comes to meal time – see dog feeding. You still need to be wary about overfeeding.
Effective dog training is an art and it is far better to seek out a professional dog trainer with plenty of experience. A lot of dog trainers become instructors at clubs because of having had difficult dogs themselves so they do understand what you are going through, particularly if you have a rescue dog which is a little more difficult. With some patience and perseverence you will succeed.