Positive reinforcement training means we let our dogs know when they do the right thing. We let them know with something they like, such as food, a toy, interaction, pats or praise. This is contrary to old-style dog training where there was a lot of yelling, jerking or even hitting when the dog got it wrong.
To be successful we need to firstly set our dogs up for success by managing their environment. This means we use baby gates to keep them out of the kitchen, we give them legitimate things to chew (pigs ears, roo tails, Kongs or similar) and put our shoes out of reach and we use leashes to keep them safe on walks.
We also need to focus on the good things they do. We humans tend to notice the things we don’t like and yell. I think 50% of dogs think their name is “NO”, 30% think it is “AHAH” and some just don’t know. Make sure you pay attention and every time your dog does something you like, for example sit instead of jumping up or resting on her bed, let her know you like what she is doing.
We also teach them the behaviours we want, such as being calm on their bed, sit for greeting, come when called, meet other dogs calmly and walk on the leash to name a few. The basics are best taught by luring. The easiest example is how we teach ‘sit’: We put a treat in front of our dog’s nose, bring it up and over their head, they follow the treat, the rear end goes down, they sit. We can say ‘yes’ as a marker word and give them the treat. After a few repetitions we pretend to have the food in the hand and soon the dog will learn that a hand raised in front of their head means sit, then we can add the verbal cue ‘sit’. A behaviour that is reinforced like this will be repeated and they will do it for longer.
If they make a mistake, and who does not occasionally, we calmly interrupt by saying their name, redirect them to an alternative behaviour, for example sitting instead of jumping up, and reinforce that behaviour with a treat.
The main reasons to avoid punishment like yelling and hitting are the unwanted side effects. Punishment can cause aggression, fear, anxiety, minimal response and avoidance. Also, science clearly states that positive reinforcement is more effective and has fewer side effects than punishment. Dogs trained with positive methods are less attention-seeking or fearful and have higher levels of obedience.
I also think it is much better for our relationship!
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