These days the older, traditional methods of training dogs, usually revolved around punishing undesired behaviour, with smacks and beatings. These days, hurting your dog are not seen as either healthy for your dog or the most effective way of getting your dog to behave.
It has been shown that dogs actually respond much better to being encouraged to do the right thing, rather than punished for doing the wrong. This is the root of positive reinforcement training.
There are some styles that use a combination of these methods, which are usually termed “balanced”. The general consensus among dog organizations is that negative reinforcement/punishment can often be counter-productive and the best approach is simply to ignore all undesired behaviour (including eye-contact!) and your dog will soon stop doing it in favour of things that they are rewarded for.
However, exactly how to train your dog is something that is widely debated by dog trainers. In this article, we look at the basics of positive reinforcement and using it to train your pet.
Dog training works best when it begins at the puppy stage. A puppy’s mind is most impressionable and can be more easily shaped away from bad behaviour like chewing and barking towards good habits like obedience. However, even adult dogs have the potential to be trained.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
When we talk about reinforcement, we are talking about the process of, “encouraging or strengthening a belief or pattern of behaviour.”
On the other hand, punishment based approaches attempt to forcibly deter certain behaviour. So reinforcement is the carrot to punishment’s stick-based approach.
It is imperative to understand the use of the power of reinforcement as this effect often occurs by accident so much better to understand and control it be.
For example, with many dogs, any form of attention/reaction from the owner is better than no reaction at all. So if owners react to undesired behaviour by shouting at their pet, they may inadvertently reinforce the behaviour as dogs can perceive this as attention and hence the undesirable behaviour is reinforced.
As an example if an owner shouts at a dog who is barking excessively, the dog may interpret this as getting attention and thus the barking continues whereas if they are ignored by the owner and anyone they are barking at, the dog will soon learn to stop if they are rewarded for quietly sitting instead..
As well as being seen as more effective, these modern training methods put zero stress on a dog. The rewards are given when they do well and if they don’t, simply withholding the pup’s reward is usually punishment enough for them.
How is Positive Reinforcement Helpful?
A puppy’s mind is like a clean slate. You merely have to reinforce specific behaviour purposefully. You can develop good memories for the pup in association with desired actions.
Good memories involve rewarding and appreciating the dog. With some actions, you can associate the reward of going out for play. It will make him repeat the actions more often to get the praise.
However, reinforcement, either negative or positive, can happen accidentally. The puppy may get encouraging signals from us or an outsider for doing something bad or wrong.
For example, when a puppy jumps at you in excitement, you must have cuddled him up in your lap for his demonstration of love. He may continue to jump up on you and visitors or toddlers at home. It can be dangerous and may frighten people.
Due to your lack of attention, if your pup happens to find scraps of food to steal from the table, he will return to steal again.
We have to make sure that the training does not fade away; the newly learned behaviour must stick in the pup’s mind. For that, you need to give your pup positive associations between good actions and rewards.
Why is Puppy Training Important?
Training is an important part of any dog’s life and is important for several reasons.
Firstly, it provides mental stimulation which helps to keep your dog happy, and if combined with morning exercise your dog will be mentally and physically tired and much more likely to behave at home.
Puppy behaviour training is essential to prevent various mental or physical problems or health issues. Such training prevents them from developing separation anxiety, stress, and fear of strange things.
There are thousands of adult dogs who are totally panicked by things as diverse as fireworks, Halloween costumes, small people, tall people and even certain types of floor surfaces! When these things are introduced in puppyhood and paired with positive things such as food, praise, and play, the resulting comfort with these things can last a lifetime.
Finally, if you have kids or other pets at home, puppies have to be trained accordingly to get along with them.
What Kinds of Rewards Should be Given?
You cannot always give the puppy a treat for performing tricks every passing hour. The treats will become a casual thing that’ll be no more attractive.
When trainers talk about rewards they do not always mean food – a reward for a dog is essentially anything they like – a favourite toy, a play, tickled tummy or, yes, food (but try to stick with healthier options!)
So during the training process, remember to reward puppies with praise, a hug or cuddle, not just by reaching for the treats!
This will positively reinforce the behaviour with different kinds of rewards. The puppy will stay obedient to your commands even when you do not have a treat.
How to Avoid Bribing the Puppy?
Rewards of positive reinforcement do not simply include treats and biscuits. That’ll make the puppy take it as a bribe for good work. Once the puppy will get used to the bribe, he will not listen to you when there’s no treat. The treats may also start to lose their meaning for pups.
The pup has to perform the trick. He can get the treat only when it’s time for training, and when your command is involved.
Bribing the puppy involves showing the treat to the dog to make him obey you. This is not training but simple bribing of the puppy. Later on, when you will not show the treat, he will not obey you.
How Does Positive Reinforcement Become Functional?
Reinforcement begins with specific reactions to specific events or situations. A better response leads to a better grooming of puppy behaviour and, in return, benefits the puppy. A positive response promotes specific behaviours, and negative reactions prevent their repetition in future. But, there are exceptions as well.
Reinforcement occurs when consequences of actions are provided. The dog remembers the outcomes whether they are ‘good,’ ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent.’ It helps the dogs work for actions with pleasant consequences, and avoid behaviours that result in indifferent or bad responses.
Reinforcements make the behaviour repeat in future. But, for that to happen, the time frame of rewarding the behaviour should be strictly followed, i.e., immediately after the dog performs the task ‘perfectly.’
Treat him more often in the beginning, but then gradually lower the charm of treats. Praise him or pat him or say words of appreciations like ‘good boy.’ Later on, rotate between different rewards so that the dog does not get into ‘bribes.’
Types of Reinforcements
Reinforcement is not always positive. There exists negative reinforcement as well. It’s the emphasis on positive or negative behavior consciously or unconsciously.
Positive reinforcement is rewarding the good behavior and increasing the chances of its repetition in future. For example, we teach our dog to ‘stay’ as we move away. If he obeys the command when we do it in a park or during a walk, then, the good behaviour has been reinforced.
The power of positive reinforcement is abused in some cases. For example, your puppy fears to socialize with other dogs and comes back to you for help. You, out of love, immediately cuddle him up in your lap. He will repeat the behavior to gain your attention and will associate it with ‘positive consequence’ in his mind. He may become anti-social just because he thinks that it’s desirable behaviour.
Negative reinforcement is taking something away from the dog that he finds unpleasant. Negative reinforcement is used for training gundogs. The trainer applies pain to the trainee dog and removes it only when he performs the desired action. However, it’s not recommended for puppies as they are more sensitive to pain.
The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement of puppies is the manipulation of dog’s blank slate in a good way. It boosts the puppy’s confidence and excitement to perform every task. The bond between you and your dog will strengthen with time. It is the quickest possible method to train puppies without giving them pain or showing any aggression.
It develops an intelligent attitude in dogs, and with praise from outsiders for his excellent behavior, his confidence gets a boost. It does not involve admonishes for the wrong attitude, but appreciation for good behaviour.
Punishing a puppy for not performing an act is never an option. He has to be directed towards the right direction. If you punish him for all the wrong ways he takes up, he will get wrong signals. He may freeze up next time and stop trying even. He may refuse to move due to fear of punishment.
Reinforcement is about shaping the different kinds of dog behaviours. The techniques involved in positive reinforcement are being developed at a high pace.
Positive reinforcement is highly useful. It is a result-generating technique that’s used by dog trainers and dog behaviourist globally. It’s best for training puppies. Besides domesticated dogs, it’s the best method to train service dogs, including therapy dogs, bomb-detecting dogs, guide dogs, and police dogs.
Positive reinforcement requires maintenance sessions from time to time to have consistency. Dogs can forget the behavior if it’s not being rewarded through time and the positive memories will fade.
Rules To Remmeber When Training Your Puppy Using Positive Reinforcement
- Treats should make only a small portion of your dog’s diet. Too many treats may lead your dog to become obese and develop other health problems.
- Timing is a crucial part of positive reinforcement. Reward your pooch immediately when the proper action is acted out. The reward must occur immediately within seconds, or your pet may not associate it with proper response. For example, if you are training your dog to ‘sit,’ and reward him when he stands back up; he may think that you have rewarded him for standing up.
- Keep the commands short and uncomplicated like ‘stay,’ ’sit,’ and ‘fetch.’ The family member should stick to the same commands to avoid confusions for the puppy.
- Consistency is the golden key to achieving perfect results. It involves rewarding the desired behavior and not rewarding the undesired behavior.
- Let him reach perfection before you reward him. Perfect outcomes should be rewarded only.
Positive reinforcement is not only effective for teaching your pooch good behavior but also helps him learn new tricks while playing.
The Final Words
Punishment as a traditional method and positive reinforcement is a modern method. They are two sides of the same coin.
Positive reinforcement works both ways, to make a dog do something, and make a dog stop from doing something. It’s the best training technique for puppies and dogs. Reinforcement initiates repeated response in future. It will help you raise a happy dog.
About James Shore
This is a guest post by James Shore. James is a part-time dog-trainer and dog behavior consultant with years of experience in dog training and the man behind LabradorTrainingHQ.com
He is interested in finding out fun ways to handle dog behaviors, specifically, Labradors to help dog-owners enjoy their companions at all times.
- 1 What is Positive Reinforcement?
- 2 How is Positive Reinforcement Helpful?
- 3 Why is Puppy Training Important?
- 4 What Kinds of Rewards Should be Given?
- 5 How to Avoid Bribing the Puppy?
- 6 How Does Positive Reinforcement Become Functional?
- 7 Types of Reinforcements
- 8 The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement
- 9 Rules To Remmeber When Training Your Puppy Using Positive Reinforcement
- 10 The Final Words
- 11 About James Shore