Common Sense…AKA Positive Reinforcement

Some people don’t have common sense. I haven’t always had it. It’s a new way of thinking…new age. Okay, I kid. People complain that their dogs whine and beg at the dinner table. Did that just happen magically? Well…NO!

If you give your dog food from the table while you are eating, generally they will want more of that good stuff while you are eating. If you save some for them and put it in their bowl later…they won’t beg at the table. If you reinforce their begging at the table by giving them more food…it will happen again. It’s called positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is giving a dog a reward for something you like (you want repeated). Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool in dog training. Positive reinforcement is used in any healthy type of dog training. If you want your dog to come, you teach them the concept with positive reinforcement (when they come to you, you give them a reward to tell them “good job” such as attention, toys, or treats). If you want your dog to learn any trick you use positive reinforcement. If you want to modify behavior such as jumping on people, fearful aggression, or even begging at the table…you can use positive reinforcement.

There is a pattern here…positive reinforcement works. Why? Because it’s the same thing your parents used to raise you and build a caring and loving relationship (hopefully). Dogs are family, not play things or replaceable (even though some people think so-it infuriates me!). Making a connection with them and building a trusting relationship is very important-believe me, I have learned it work very well in training, especially with fearful dogs.

If you yank a dogs leash, yell at them, swat them with paper or your hand, you can bet they will not trust you and your relationship with your pup will suffer. Traditional methods of training are outdated and cause dogs to follow you out of fear instead of wanting to follow you…just because they want to (they like you!). Positive reinforcement training allows dogs to be more confident and less fearful.

Next time a problem comes along I suggest positive reinforcement (also known as common sense). You reinforce behavior you want to keep. If you want your dog to beg at the table, then go ahead feed them that piece of steak off of your plate. However, if you want to use common sense, wait until later when they are laying around relaxing and reinforce that with a small piece of steak.

For those of you who want an example of positive reinforcement in action here you go:

Positive reinforcement can be used to reinforce everyday behavior you want to continue. For example, if you want to teach your dog to relax, give your dog a treat when you see them relaxing. If you want to reinforce paws staying on the floor when guests arrive, treat only when the dogs paws are on the floor.

Positive reinforcement can also be used to teach behaviors.

For example, if you want your dog to learn to look at you when you say his or her name you can easily use positive reinforcement. Call your dog’s name. When your dog looks at you, give them a treat (I would use a clicker and click, then treat to make sure the dog realizes you are giving them a treat for the moment they look at you.) Continue practicing this so that every time you say the dog name they continue to look. This should be repeated until they can at least look at you 80% of the time you call their name.

Additionally, positive reinforcement can be used to modify behavior.

Oreo is fearful. She gets scared when she sees other dogs on walks. Problem: she is so scared she starts to puff, growl, and lunge even when a dog is 50 feet away. She won’t turn around or move!

How can I solve this problem? Positive reinforcement! I can walk with Oreo at a distance a bit further than 50 feet away. I don’t want her to get very upset, so upset she can’t hear me or think. I want her to be far enough away from her “trigger” (what gets her upset), that I can work with her. So I try 55 feet away. I walk with Oreo and when we see another dog we start practicing turning around. I call her name and give her 5 seconds to turn around. If she does turn and look at me I click and treat (reinforcing the behavior of looking at me in the presence of another dog so she will do it again). If she doesn’t we need to start over (no reward, I don’t want her to ignore me, so I won’t reinforce it). Eventually with practice, she will turn around and walk the other way with me quickly.

These are just examples, and if you have a fearful dog like my dog Oreo, I suggest you seek a positive professional dog trainer to help you. There’s a lot more your dog needs to learn then just turns. Common sense right?

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