We can all probably think of at least a few things we wish our dog would stop doing. From chasing after the neighbor’s cat to digging in the trash after supper, we all find ourselves scolding our canine friends more than we’d probably like to admit.
It’s important to remember that dogs are expected to adapt to our lives without knowing our language or lifestyle. They have to adapt to our lives while curbing many of the behaviors that are instinctual to them. Of course, dogs are excellent observers, and their keen intellect and desire to please ultimately helps them to seamlessly integrate into our homes, making them the perfect furry companion for the most part.
Behavior training, while necessary, can be very time consuming and frustrating, but as we discussed in our most recent blog about National Train Your Dog Month, training is a vital part of responsible pet ownership.
Balancing Positive and Negative Communication
The truth is that playing with and snuggling your pup is a fun and rewarding part of owning a pet. But getting them to follow your house rules? Easier said than done.
If you think about it, there’s a clear language barrier between beast and man. And since your pup cannot “speak” to you, it’s important to establish a form of communication you can both understand. There are many studies that indicate that training your pooch tends to have the best results when you employ positive reinforcement training. As the name implies, positive training simply means rewarding your dog for good behavior, while ignoring or redirecting your dog for undesirable behavior.
That’s not to say that “negative commands” should never be used. There are times that negative commands should be used when you need to quickly get your dog’s attention—such as if they’re creating a dangerous situation for themselves or others around them.
However, negative commands or actions should be used sparingly and should not be used in regular training. Fear can be a useful emotion, but it only provides temporary, short-term results and can create an anxious pet if used in excess. Additionally, punishment can be confusing, since your dog might not understand what exactly they are being punished for.
In fact, in some cases, punishment can serve to make a behavior problem worse. Aggressive or fearful dogs often become even more aggressive or distrusting in response to punishment.
Positive behavior reinforcement techniques allow you to discipline and train your dog without scaring him. And it provides you with a clear means of communication with your fur babe.
Five Ways to Encourage Positive Behavior
The key to a successful positive reinforcement training is to start small. You can set your pooch up for success by using one-word commands that are easy to understand: sit, come, leave it, or stay. Every time your dog displays appropriate behaviors, reward him with a treat and verbal praise.
And, if you can, start young. Teaching your pet basic obedience training at a young age will help provide ample mental stimulation and will build a healthy bond between owner and pet. Of course, adopting a dog from a rescue facility often dictates that you’ll bring home an older companion, but old dogs definitely can learn new tricks.
Pay Attention to Your Pup
It’s important to ensure that you spend quality time with your doggo on a regular basis.
Creating a relationship of trust and affection is not only emotionally beneficial for both owner and pet, but it makes training easier in the long run, as your pup will be more eager to please. And the more time spent together, the better you’ll both be able to pick up on unspoken cues.
Dogs are clearly food motivated, and treats are often used as a reward to encourage positive behavior. But did you know that your undivided attention can also be used as a reward for when your dog is well behaved?
If your dog is clearly seeking physical attention, make him work for it instead of immediately lavishing him with attention. For instance, you can ask him to sit or lie down. When he does as requested, give him some snuggle time. If he doesn't, step away for a few seconds, then return and give him the command again. Your dog will quickly learn that certain behaviors get him lots of one-on-one time with his favorite person.
Challenge Your Pup
If you want your pup to be on a positive path to training, be sure that he’s getting enough mental and physical stimulation to really focus during training sessions.
Dogs are naturally full of energy and very curious. Just like humans, they require physical activity and mental stimulation to stay happy and fit. In fact, many behavioral problems can be attributed to boredom, and excess energy can make your pet restless, noisy, anxious, hyperactive, and destructive!
The amount of exercise depends on the breed of your dog, but at the very least, a daily walk is ideal as walks provide exercise and enrichment opportunities for your pet by allowing them to experience new environments and the chance to get out of the house.
Reward Your Pup
Everyone feels good when given praise, and your pup is no different. An affectionate scratch behind the ear or a “good boy” spoken when handing out a treat will encourage more good behavior from your pooch than zero positive reinforcement.
And, as we mentioned earlier, extra attention or a fun game can be just as motivating for some dogs as food. Regardless of the type of reward, make sure you choose something truly rewarding from your pet’s point-of-view. The key is finding what makes your dog tick and setting him up for success by providing him clear instructions, ample opportunities to get it right, and a preferred reward for his efforts.
And, while it’s okay to use treats in the beginning to help your dog achieve the goals you’ve set in place, it’s encouraged to wean your dog from treats over time while continuing to offer praise and affection. Eventually, your pup will forget about the treats and do what you want just to please you. Thereby, your affection becomes the treat.
Keep Training Consistent
It’s important to ensure that everyone in your family is using the same commands and rewards to keep things consistent for your pet. Using multiple commands for a specific learned behavior can be confusing and will take longer for your pup to learn. Keep commands short and be consistent in using the same commands within the household. And remember that correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur immediately (within seconds) or your pet may not associate it with the proper action.
Also, keep in mind that dogs are pack animals, and your family quickly becomes their pack. Because of this, your pet will thrive in a home where rules are clear and consistent. If dad says Fido isn’t allowed on the couch, but mom lets him on the couch when dad isn’t around, you’re only setting your pup up for failure.
At the end of the day, a well-trained pup can become man’s best friend. And with proper training, consistency, and plenty of affection, your furry companion will easily be on their best behavior.
Has positive reinforcement worked for your dog? Tell us in the comments!