How to Train Your Dog Using Positive Reinforcement

>> 2/26/09

Positive reinforcement is a training method in which a reinforcement is given directly after a behavior is completed in efforts to increase the probability of that behavior’s occurrence. This method of training was pioneered by B.F. Skinner and is a form of operant conditioning because it seeks to influence voluntary or, operant behavior. If all of this sounds complicated think of it in terms of consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior. In terms of positive reinforcement the reward for the completion of the desired behavior becomes what is known as the reinforcer. You might be thinking to yourself, that’s great, but what does this have to do with training my dog. The answer is simple; train him by using rewards or praise when he does the right thing and not by punishment when he doesn’t.

The first step is to find out what motivates your dog. Most people use treats as enforcers when using positive reinforcement training; however, some dogs respond just as well to praise, toys or physical affection. If you decide to use food then it is best to use small nibbles of soft food like bits of hot dog or cheese. These treats are especially enticing and do not take a long time to eat so Rover will be ready for his next treat. Once you have chosen the reward, come up with a list of commands for your dog and use them every time. Commands should be no more than two words in length if possible. Sit, stay, down, come and leave it are some of the most basic. With these two basics you are ready to begin.

Start by having your dog complete a simple behavior like sit. As soon as hit sits say good sit as you give him a treat. If your dog will not sit than put the treat in front of his nose and raise your hand upwards. He will instinctively angle for the treat resulting in a somewhat seated position. As soon as he does this give him a treat as you say good sit. This is known as shaping. He may not necessarily be completing the command all the way, but you can shape his behavior by giving treats the moment he gets close to performing the command correctly. Consistently using the same commands with praise and a treat the moment the command is achieved will cause your dog to associate the two and begin to perform the commands more quickly in anticipation of the treat.

As soon as your dog masters a new trick you can begin to wean him off the treats for every correct response. At this stage continue verbal praise and the repeating of the command as done prior, but now refrain from giving a treat every time. At this stage you should be giving treats intermittently so he receives one some of the time, but doesn’t at others. Eventually your dog will have associated something positive for performing this trick and will be able to perform it with no tricks or treats, although a little treat never hurts in further reinforcement of the behavior. This is also a good stage to introduce new commands. When introducing new commands go back to start and reward him every time while praising at the exact moment the desired behavior occurred.

The theory of positive reinforcement training is simple. You want your dog to have manners and follow basic obedience commands and your dog wants to please you and eat yummy treats. When you put the two together the most important thing to remember is the timing involved when administering the reinforcer. If you get Fido in a sit and wait for him to begin to stand up afterwards to give him the treat then you are enforcing the stand and not the sit. So remember, as soon as the behavior occurs give the treat and the praise. Consistency will get you everywhere you want to be when training your dog.

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Anonymous February 27, 2009 at 9:04 AM  

An Invisible Fence is a good idea if you want to keep your dog safe.


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