Positive Reinforcement In Dog Training

2018-12-08T08:17:30+00:00

One of the most effective ways of training your dog is positive reinforcement. But what is it? Positive reinforcement is the act of rewarding or adding something just after your dog acts or behaves in a certain way in order to make the frequency of the behavior go up. For instance, when you ask your dog to sit and he does so, you reward it with its favorite treat, it is called positive reinforcement. Doing so will make your dog more likely to repeat the same when you ask it to do so. On the other hand, doing something which makes the behavior down instead is not positive reinforcement.

REWARDS THAT CAN BE USED AS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS

Food is the easiest as well as one of the most effective rewards that can be used as positive reinforcement. This is because all dogs love food and is more convenient to use as it can be delivered quickly. Rewarding your dog with is favorite game is another option which can be used as a positive reinforcement. For instance, a game of tug or fetch, which are commonly enjoyed by all dogs. Petting and praising can also be used as positive reinforcements though many researchers and dog experts are against it. There are some studies which have found certain dogs to have no interest in getting praised. Hence, petting and praising may not always work for you.

Technically, food works the best as positive reinforcements in dog training. Delivering it is much easier and convenient than playing or praising. Also it takes a lot less time than a round of your dog’s favorite play which means you can have another repetition of your dog’s training exercise right after you reward it with its favorite food. Even though most dogs love petting and being praised however, it is not as much effective as food when it comes to training.

HOW TO USE FOOD WHILE TRAINING YOUR DOG

Food is used in two main ways in dog training.

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

This is the most common usage of food while training a dog. Whenever a dog behaves in certain way as desired by its owner, it is immediately rewarded with food. This makes the dog more likely for the dog to repeat the same behavior whenever the owner asks for it like asking it to sit or stand etc. In the same way, if the dog does not act accordingly, it is not rewarded and the owner can go a step back and try again.

CLASSICAL CONDITIONING

This is another way of using food in dog training where it is used to make the dog change the way it feels about certain things. For example, a lot of dogs do not like to be groomed or bathed. Here, food is an effective way to make them like these acts by following each of them with the dog’s favorite food or treats. Doing so will make the dog gradually like the things that initially it did not. This generally takes some time and owners need to be careful of moving at the dog’s pace and not to expect their dogs like doing those acts immediately.

No pull harnesses or flat collars are gentle on dogs and accruing to certain studies, dogs with such harnesses and collars, did not show any signs of stress. However, you still have to train your dog to adjust with these and using food is a great way to do so.

TYPES OF FOOD THAT CAN BE USED AS REWARDS

While training your dog, it is the best that you keep some food or your dog’s favorite treats to be used as rewards hidden way in your hand. These food rewards can be of little bite sized pieces which can be delivered easily and instantly just after getting a positive behavior from your dog. Use food which is loved by your dog. Little pieces of cooked chicken cubes are a great option to be used as a reward. Do not use the same food which is you generally feed your dog. The whole idea here is to use food which can be motivating for your dog to do things. Pet shops usually have huge range of tasty readymade treats which can be used as rewards. You can also choose from different types of human food which is also suitable for your dog and you can cook them on your own. Make sure to use things which are healthy and add to the diet of your dog. For instance, if you are training your dog rigorously, using pieces of chicken is a great idea as chicken forms a healthy component of your dog’s diet. Amongst all these always be careful that you are not over feeding your dog. Going for little pieces of treat is the best option here.

Sometimes, certain dogs are recommended for special diet by the vets. If your dog is on a special diet, you can still use food as a positive reinforcement while training. You can opt for using canned versions of the food which you normally use as treats or rewards.

WHAT IF YOUR DOG IS FOOD MOTIVATED?

A lot of time people say that food is not helping them in training their dog. There can be a number of underlying reasons here.

Do not use the same kind of food that you generally feed your dog for meals as rewards. You need to use food as a motivator which your dog gets only when he acts positively. A number of times people do not pay much attention to what their dogs generally like. Make sure your treats are exciting enough to motivate your dog. Try having different variations of treats so that it does not get bored.

Even after doing all of these, if your dog still does not seem to be interested in food, it is important that you take it to the vet immediately. It is unusual for dogs to not like food especially their favorite treats. If your dog is eating less and shows no interest to treats, it needs immediate professional help. There could be an underlying medical condition which needs urgent intervention.

WHAT IS NOT POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?

A lot of people fail to understand the actual meaning of positive reinforcement. Such people consider the moment when an unpleasant activity or behavior stops, to be a positive reinforcement. However, this is not true.

People, who use shock collars for training their dog, believe that when the shock stops, it is a reward to the dog. In reality, it is a relief and not a reward and both of these are not the same. Positive reinforcement is the act of adding something positive which can help in increasing the frequency of the behavior go up. Stopping something like a shock is not a positive reinforcement as it does not include the addition of anything in here.

WHY SHOULD POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT BE USED IN DOG TRAINING?

A lot of people do not use positive reinforcement while training their dogs. Instead they use positive punishment or sometimes negative reinforcements as well. According to most specialists usage of these methods is not the best choice for you and your dog as well.

Studies have proved that people who use reward based methods for training their dogs are successful in making them more obedient in contrast to the ones who use aversive methods or techniques. Using positive reinforcements are also proven to develop better human canine bond and is also better for animal welfare than using punishments or negative reinforcements.

Using punishments as a method to train dogs can be very harmful at times. Use of aversive techniques can lead a dog to show aggressive responses which can be harmful to both family members and strangers outside home. Another factor of using aversive techniques is that, when dogs associate their owners as the cause of their punishment, it strains the relationship between them.

The primary reason why people should use positive reinforcement for training their dogs is because dogs like to work when there is a reward associated with it. It is what motivates them.

Positive reinforcement is a way of teaching your dog a good behavior while negative reinforcements or aversive techniques are just a way of punishing your dog for doing something wrong. It doesn’t contribute in any way to teach your dog a new and positive behavior.

WHY ISN’T POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT WORKING?

A lot of times, positive reinforcements fail to work in effectively training your dog. Here are some of the possible reasons and the correct way of using positive reinforcements –

  • If you are using food as a positive reinforcement and things do not seem to work, try reconsidering the treats that you give your dog. Look for things that your dog enjoys the most. Also at times, dogs tend to get bored with the same kind of food. Try to have a variety of tasty treats that you can use as treats.
  • Positive reinforcements do not work if you just go along. You must have a proper plan of training your dog for positive reinforcements to work with maximum effectiveness.
  • Positive reinforcements also fail to work if you do not deliver the rewards fast enough. For instance, you ask your dog to sit and it successfully does so. But by the time you reach for the rewards and give it to your dog, it has already stood up or jumped. This makes you deliver rewards for the wrong action. In order to make positive reinforcements work effectively you need to deliver them quickly and at the right time so that your dog does not get confused.
  • Another mistake that you might be making is that you are reaching for the treat or reward even before your dog has successfully acted the way you wanted. This can be indeed very confusing for your dog.
  • Another reason could be that you are expecting too much in too little time. Training a dog is tricky and requires a lot of practice and time. Give your dog enough time to learn before concluding that positive reinforcement is not working for you and your dog.
  • Positive reinforcements won’t work if you do not think that distractions might come in the way. For instance, you might train your dog successfully in making it sit at your home. However, it doesn’t mean that it would do the same at a park full of people. Remember that your dog needs enough practice to act in the same way even when there are a lot of distractions.

Dog training is actually a very difficult and a skilled activity. There is no need to be ashamed if you are struggling in training your dog efficiently. You can also take the help of trained professionals or even take your dog to a training class. While doing so always remember to pay attention to the methods they use while training and make sure they are not using any aversive techniques.

HOW LONG ARE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS TO BE USED?

It is not uncommon for people to ask if they need to keep using positive reinforcements forever. The answer is if you want your dog to keep repeating the positive behavior, you will have to keep repeating the positive reinforcements. However, what you can do is gradually make changes in how frequently you reward your dog and create a intermittent reinforcement schedule which means you reward your dog only sometimes. Using such a training method will help in resisting your dog in stopping the positive behavior completely. The most commonly made mistake that affects the positive behavior of dogs is stopping rewards all together. Stopping rewards completely will make your dog stop in showing the positive behaviors. Not rewarding often also reduces the effectiveness of reinforcements.