What is Positive Reinforcement Training?
Most people have heard of the term positive reinforcement, but what exactly does it mean?
Remember when your parents would give you money, or a special treat for getting an A on your report card? And how you were more likely to work hard for that A in the future knowing that you’d be rewarded for it? That’s positive reinforcement.
Positive Reinforcement is a reward following a desired behavior, making that behavior more likely to occur in the future. It does not use fear, intimidation, or dominance, but rather uses praise and reward to build a trusting and happy communication between you and your dog.
Positive reinforcement is known to be the most effective, safest, and longest-lasting training method in animals. It is not about punishing a dog for what they are doing badly, it’s about showing them the good behavior that you do want.
What can be used as a reward? Anything that your dog likes! Treats, physical attention, praise, belly rubs, a toy, anything that will make them happy is fair game.
The timing of your reward is everything. You must reward the behavior within seconds of your dog doing it. If you fiddle around too long for a treat your dog is going to forget what it is that he did right. In positive reinforcement training we use a clicker to let your dog know that he has done the proper behavior. A clicker is a small device that makes a distinct clicking sound when you press it. Before using the clicker, you must condition your dog to associate the sound of the click with a treat.
Beware of using positive reinforcement to solidify undesired behaviors. This is very easy to do without meaning to, and then your dog will develop bad habits. For example, if you dog is barking at the door to be let out, and you open the door for him in order to keep him quiet, then you are rewarding the behavior without meaning to, which will make your dog more likely to bark at the door in the future.
So Why Use Positive Reinforcement Training?
Many years ago it was believed that the best way to train a dog was to use dominance, or in other words, to be the “alpha”. Modern studies show that in feral dog packs (the closest thing that we have to wild dogs) the leader is not the most dominant dog, but actually the dog who has the most friends. Positive reinforcement training uses this mentality in order to make you a strong leader that your dog will trust, and genuinely want to follow. Who wouldn’t want that?