Remember when we were kids and our parents gave us money for our high grades or for doing household chores? The reward motivates us to continue doing better and repeating the behavior, right? Those are among your first encounters with positive reinforcement.
Basically, positive reinforcement in dog training involves giving rewards in the form of treats, toys, verbal praises, or cuddles when your dog shows good behavior. When done right, positive reinforcement can be one of the most powerful tools for modifying or shaping your dog’s behaviors, particularly the undesirable ones.
While rewarding your dog for excellent behavior sounds pretty easy and straightforward, this approach requires some practice and following basic guidelines. In this article, we’ll help you increase your chances of successfully training your dog through positive reinforcement.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement means adding a reinforcing stimulus after a behavior that you’d like to strengthen. So when a reward or a favorable outcome occurs after your dog performs a specific action, that particular behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future.
You’ll know that you are successful in positively reinforcing a behavior when it happens again or the frequency of a behavior has increased.
What are Good Rewards?
As mentioned earlier, positive reinforcement may include food treats, verbal praises, petting, or toys. However, most dogs are food-motivated, so treats work best during dog training.
Make sure that your treat is something that your dog doesn’t always receive and it must be highly enticing. Ideally, treats are small and soft so they can finish eating quickly.
You might also want to buy a variety of treats so your dog won’t become bored about getting the same one each time. Finally, when you give your dog a reward for performing the desired action, you should combine the treats with other types of positive reinforcements such as praises and petting. Doing this will make your dog become even more motivated.
Just like humans, what motivates dogs the most may vary. So use your training sessions to experiment and find out which are the most effective rewards.
Tips When Using Positive Reinforcement for Dog Training
Here are some of the most basic guidelines to successfully use positive reinforcement for dog training:
Timing is key
Keep in mind that the reward must be given immediately after the desired behavior in order for your dog to associate the positive reinforcement with the action. For instance, if you’re teaching your dog how to sit, but the reward comes later when it has already stood back up, it is possible that the dog will think that it’s being rewarded for standing.
Keep your commands short
Dogs are more likely to remember short commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘down’, ‘come’, ‘up’, or ‘leave it’ instead of complete sentences. In fact, you can also use body language first, before commanding your dog with short and simple verbal cues.
Consistency is everything
Regular practice and repetition is important in dog training. You have to be consistent in the commands that you use and in providing positive reinforcements, at least at first. Consistency also means everyone in the family should use the same verbal cues so your dog won’t get confused.
Stock up on treats
Treats are probably the most effective way to motivate dogs. So stock up on teats as training won’t be completed overnight. Aside from these commercial treats, you can also use pieces of chicken or cheese as alternatives.
Establish trust and understanding with your dog
You should consider dog training sessions as a way for you to bond with your dog. Teaching a dog important skills and cool tricks is like teaching a child. This means you have to be very patient and take a step back to ask yourself how you can help your dog understand what you’re trying to teach it through body language and creative ways of providing positive reinforcements.
Create a conducive environment for training
Sometimes, it’s not enough that you are prepared with positive reinforcements– you also have to set the environment to make it more conducive to learning. Dogs are innately curious, so help them focus better by eliminating distractions.
Additionally, you should make sure that your dog is in the proper condition to train. You’ll find it difficult to train a dog that is sick, sleepy, or tired.
The best way to train your dog is through positive reinforcement. While it’s a tried and tested strategy, it’s important to keep in mind that your dog learns at its own pace and training generally requires a lot of patience and dedication.
However, if you want a more convenient and efficient dog training, you can also hire a professional dog trainer. Delaware K9 Academy is one of the most trusted dog trainers that offers private lessons, 2-week boot camps, and puppy training.
If you want to learn more about these and which program is most suitable for your needs and goals, get in touch with Delaware K9 Academy today!