The benefits of a well-trained dog are not something to be barked at. Clear communication is paramount to fostering a happy, healthy, anxiety-free pooch as they are easily able to understand what you’re asking of them and thus, they know the response that they need to give in order to get the love and attention they desire.
In our previous article, we looked at the progression over the last 30 years of dog training philosophies, and specifically, the move towards a positive reinforcement training method over those previous beliefs that dogs had to be “broken” in order to be trained.
So now that we understand that positive reinforcement training is ultimately about rewarding those good behaviours and ignoring the not so good, let’s have a look at how to get off on the right paw with training your dog using this method.
The Golden Rules for positive reinforcement training:
1. Choose your training environment wisely - Always opt for a quiet area away from distractions when you’re finding the perfect place for your dog training sessions. You want to provide your pooch the best chance of success and so conducting training in the middle of the local park with other dogs, children, and traffic around them is not going to be conducive to a good, focused training session.
2. Timing is essential – As soon as your pooch responds correctly to your training command, ensure you reward them immediately, failure to do so can send mixed signals to the dog in terms of what exactly you’re requesting from that command. A good example of this is when asking them to sit – ensure you reward them while they are sitting, and not after they sat and then stood back up.
3. Be consistent – Ensure you’re always using the same commands. This is a little easier when it comes to “sit” and “stay”, however ambiguities can arise when you’re using “down” in terms of “lie down” and “down” in terms get “get down off the furniture”. Ensure that there is no room for miscommunication between what you’re asking for and what the correct response is for your pooch.
4. Your positive reinforcement training tools – Ensure that whatever you are using as your reward tool is something that your K9 companion can’t resist. This could be treats and titbits for one dog, or praise and cuddles for another. Understand just what it is that your dog responds to the best and use this as your primary tool. If you’re training your black Lab then you’re probably (let’s face it) going to be using food; ensure that the food is something that is easily and quickly eaten, so that you can carry on with the training – you don’t want your dog looking all over the floor for more pieces of that big broken delicious biscuit when you want them to be back on task and looking at you.
5. The power of your positive voice – When rewarding your pooch for their correct behaviour with their delicious titbit or cosy cuddle, always include a positive verbal response as well; for instance, give them their reward and also respond with a gentle rub behind the ears or in their favourite spot and a “good boy/girl” positive verbal response as well.
Up next, we look into putting into practice the positive reinforcement training methods when it comes to teaching your canine companion the basics.