Having loved many dogs throughout my life, I’ve spent a good amount of time training my furry family members. If I had to sum up the general dog training philosophy I’ve employed over the years with my own dogs, I’d probably borrow a couple of lines from an old song: You’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.
Quite simply, I’ve found that dogs by nature thrive on positive feedback. They seem to respond much better to training that rewards them for doing the right things, rather than training that reprimands them for doing the wrong things. So, when training a dog, it pays to be liberal with the love—and the training treats.
How to Train Your Dog Using the Power of Praise
There are many different dog training methods based on the “reward the good” concept, since behaviorists have shown that dogs learn by associating actions with results. If, therefore, your dog gets a pleasant result directly after performing some action, he or she is very likely to want to repeat that action to trigger additional pleasant results. In addition, the positive feelings your dog gets from being rewarded tend to linger for a while and ultimately encourage your dog to keep up the good work.
To be clear, training a dog using a reward system doesn’t mean simply indulging your dog with treats all day long. Instead, it means rewarding a specific positive behavior immediately after it occurs by lavishing praise on your dog and/or offering up a tasty training treat.
Timing is, in fact, critical when rewarding dogs, because they don’t have very good memories. So, if you deliver the reward after too much time has passed, your dog will likely never make the connection between the action and the reward—although just about all dogs will happily accept the treat anyway! Most experts agree that a reward needs to be given within seconds of the dog’s praise-worthy act in order for the reward to be a truly effective training tool.
Popular Reward-Based Methods for Training a Dog
Endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States, positive reinforcement training is a very popular and relatively simple reward-based dog training method. It suggests delivering some form of purely positive feedback as a reward immediately following your dog’s good behavior.
Bad behavior, on the other hand, does not earn a reward and isn’t punished with a harsh or physical reprimand. Simply withdrawing what would have been the reward treat or taking away a favorite reward toy is enough to acknowledge your dog’s unacceptable behavior when using positive reinforcement training.
To successfully train a dog using positive reinforcement, you must be very consistent, always rewarding the desired behavior in the same manner and never rewarding an undesired behavior. In addition, everyone in the household needs to participate in the training using the same short and simple commands to prompt a desired action—and the same treats to reward your dog for responding appropriately. Inconsistency in these areas will only end up confusing your dog.
Clicker Training is another popular and very effective form of positive reinforcement training, often further characterized as marker-based positive reinforcement. Once again, clicker training is rooted in the premise that behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated. When training a dog with clicker training, food treats are often used as a primary reward for good behavior and punishment or negative reinforcement is avoided.
The really unique aspect of clicker training is the use of a clicker during training sessions to signal the exact moment your dog exhibits the desired behavior and exactly what is being rewarded. Most dogs learn quickly that when they hear the clicker sound, they have done something good and will be rewarded with a treat.
Karen Pryor is a leading authority on clicker training, which she helped develop based on her work in the 1960s training dolphins. With marine mammals, she and her colleagues used a whistle to signal the reward, since whistles can be heard underwater.
Proponents of clicker training believe that standard training often takes months if not longer to produce consistent results, while clicker training can often produce results in a matter of weeks. At www.clickertraining.com you can learn everything you need to know about how to train a dog using clicker training, including these 15 tips for how to get started.
It’s also important to note that clicker training, as well as general positive reinforcement training, can be used to train any kind of animal of any age, including cats, birds, and other pets. But for more specifics on how to adapt the reward method to train your cat, visit www.catological.com and check out “How To Train Your Cat Or Kitten To Sit.”
Rover’s Rewards—From Favorite Toys to Training Treats
Regardless of the specific type of positive reinforcement training you might be interested in trying, you need to spend some time thinking about the rewards you would like to use while training. You should consider food treats, a favorite toy or game, enthusiastic praise, a belly rub or petting, or some other activity that you can deliver immediately and that your dog loves.
Since most dogs are at their happiest while eating, food rewards are often very effective. Just remember that any food rewards you use as training treats need to be absolutely irresistible to your dog. A dry piece of kibble won’t cut it. Select something that will entice your dog and make him or her want to come back for more. Just follow these guidelines for a list of foods you should never feed your pets.
You will likely find yourself treating your dog a lot during the training process, so you need to consider both the healthfulness of your training treats and their calorie count. Otherwise you may end up with a sick and overweight—albeit well-trained—dog.
Ideal training treats, therefore, should be small—about the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even smaller for tiny dogs. Training treats should also be made of real food and contain as few ingredients as possible—with no fillers, additives, or preservatives. Here at Ageless Paws, I offer four different kinds of single-ingredient, freeze dried, grain-free treats to make training a healthy, fun, and nourishing experience.
Tapering Training Treats
When you first begin training a dog, you need to give a reward treat every single time your dog performs the desired behavior. This is called continuous reinforcement and it solidifies the connection between the wanted action and the reward.
Once your dog knows a particular behavior very well and can perform it under any circumstances, you want to switch to intermittent reinforcement. This is where you still praise your pooch every time for a job well done, but you gradually reduce the number of times your dog actually gets a training treat for the action.
You can always go back to treating continuously if your dog’s behavior starts to backslide. In the end, however, you want your pet to want to please you. And you want your dog to be working hard for your praise—not necessarily a savory snack.
When it comes to training pets, often times pet owners don’t think too much about training their cats. But cats are extremely intelligent and have fun training and LOVE treats too! Check out this video below that can teach you how to train your cat to sit:
- Hoffman, M. The Well-Mannered Dog: From Dealing with Cats to Staying in Hotels, a Total Guide to Good Manners. Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, PA. 1999. pp. 30-33.
- The Humane Society of the United States. “Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training.” Accessed online May 30, 2018.
- WebMD. “Dog Training: Positive Reinforcement vs. Alpha Dog Methods.” Accessed online May 30, 2018.
- Dogtime.com. “7 Most Popular Dog Training Methods.” Accessed online May 30, 2018.
- American Kennel Club site. “Clicker Training for Dogs.” Accessed online May 31, 2018.
- Clickertraining.com. “Fifteen Tips for Getting Started with the Clicker.” Accessed online May 31, 2018
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.