Positive reinforcement in dog training can go by many names, most of which are valid and worthy: reward-based training, science-based training, force-free or pain-free training, etc. Regardless of the terminology, the general theory behind this line of thinking remains the same.
So what exactly is positive reinforcement?
If you give your dog a reward (praise, play, food, toys, etc.) when he responds to you or offers an action or a behavior that you like, then that behavior is likely to be repeated.
Your dog learns that good things happen to him when he does the thing you like.
Positive-reinforcement teaching techniques use non confrontational methods to work a dog’s brain – rewarding positive behavior, establishing rituals and training actions that are incompatible with negative behavior, and lessening a dog’s anger and frustration – all while enabling the dog to feel good inside. If you reinforce a dog’s desirable behaviors, there is less of a chance that she will indulge in other behaviors that you do not like. Decision-making is influenced without the use of force, and the dog’s trust in the owner is not violated through threatening treatment.
Using positive techniques to change undesirable behavior requires that you first determine the cause of the behavior and then figure out how to modify and change it by giving the dog the ability to learn and feel differently. People learn to connect with their dogs and work through problems in a humane manner – strengthening the relationship by fostering mutual trust, providing affection, and encouraging cooperation. Increasing a dog’s enjoyment of social interaction gives the dog what she needs to deal with the pressures of domestic life. Dogs that are taught using positive reinforcement methods are more tolerant, self-controlled and behave much more predictably in different situations.
It is vitally important that you give your dog the opportunities and tools she needs to live successfully in your strange human world. A dog that is given consistent guidance from an early age grows up to be a confident dog. Education brings security, security brings confidence, and a confident dog has no need to show anxiety-based behaviors.
The strongest relationships between dogs and humans are based on cooperation and kindness rather than on human dominance and animal submission. If you choose to use positive techniques when building a relationship with your dog, you will be on your way to establishing and maintaining a connection that increases trust and results in a stronger, healthier bond between you. Put simply, if your dog feels good about you, she will be happier, confident, better behaved, and more inclined to respond to you when you ask her to do something
The process of changing a dog’s behavior using positive reinforcement relies first and foremost on understanding and patience; it takes consistency, repetition, and following this general roadmap:
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- INVESTIGATE. Identify why your dog is doing what she is doing. You cannot effectively deal with a behavior unless you know the root cause.
- UNDERSTAND. Once you know why, then you can ask yourself how to treat the behavior. To do this, it is vitally important you understand your dog.
- LEARN. Figure out how to communicate clearly. Effective two-way communication increases the bond between you.
- MOTIVATE. Find what motivates your dog and use this while teaching. Rewards in the form of food, toys, praise, or play are powerful, but every dog is different, so find out what motivates your dog the most.
- BE KIND. Never hit, scream at, or yank your dog. Do not combat fear with more fear—recognize your dog’s concerns, then slowly and gently help her overcome them.
- SLOW DOWN. Go very slowly when dealing with anxiety-related behaviors.
- BE CONSISTENT. Everyone in your dog's life must be on the same page and provide consistency in training, expectations and reactions. If one person lets your dog on the couch and someone else does not, she will get confused.
- BE PATIENT. Just like with humans, the more significant the behavior issue, the longer it can take to develop a solution. Stay the course and always remember that the power of positive training is the right choice in all situations, no matter what the issue.
- Using Positive Reinforcement on Dogs vs. People
- Change is Powerful
- Why Positive Training is Not Bribery
- The Truth Behind Positive Training
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