Are you trying to teach your dog basic obedience?
Would you like to modify your dog’s aggressive or fearful behavior?
Do you want training to be fun for yourself and your dog?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then positive reinforcement training is for you!
Positive reinforcement training is humane, effective, and fun for both humans and dogs! Many forms of training can be effective, but we need to consider the potential for adverse side effects, as well as the dog’s emotional wellbeing during and after training. When those things are taken into consideration, positive reinforcement training is the way to go!
“Training methods are most effective when they focus on teaching the animal what to do, rather than punishing them for unwanted behavior. Common training issues such as jumping, barking and housetraining can be managed by arranging the environment appropriately and reinforcing desirable responses.” (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior)
So if you’re ready to begin your dog’s training journey, where do you start? We suggest you start by implementing a technique called S.M.A.R.T. x 50. This technique will cause your dog to perform desirable behaviors more often, and will also help you pay attention to your dog when he’s getting it right, instead of just when he’s getting it wrong!
S.M.A.R.T. stands for See Mark and Reward Training, and 50 is the number of times you should shoot for marking and rewarding your dog’s naturally occurring good behavior every day!
For many dogs, you can simply use their kibble for this. Keep rewards in small jars around the home for easy access and to remind you of your goal. Simply feed smaller daily meals to make up for the extra calories your dog will be getting throughout the day.
This S.M.A.R.T. x 50 technique will jump-start your training journey and get you feeling inspired about rewarding your dog!
Now let’s debunk some myths about positive reinforcement training:
Positive reinforcement training only works on easy dogs or easy to solve issues: NOPE
Positive reinforcement training works on all dogs! In fact, it works on any animal, even us! It can be used to teach basic obedience or modify severe behavioral issues. If you’re feeling like the technique isn’t working for your dog, you might have a WHY problem or a WHAT problem.
A WHY problem is your dog asking “why should I do that?”. We often label these dogs as stubborn or difficult, yet we ask this question all the time before we expend energy on tasks. All living animals are programmed to ask this question, it’s what keeps them alive! WHY problems are solved by giving dogs a raise. If your dog is not performing a behavior for a milk bone, then he is telling you the value of that milk bone is not worth it, in the same way as you would ask for a raise from your boss if you felt you were working too hard for your current salary. So, swap it out for a better treat or a more valuable toy!
A WHAT problem is your dog asking “what do you want?”, and simply means the criteria we’ve set for success is too high for the dog. In the same way, people need to learn basic arithmetic before they learn algebra, dogs need incremental steps as well to learn a complex behavior.
Positive reinforcement training uses food, so it is just bribery: WRONG
Any living creature needs to be motivated, and will “work” for food. We use food to train dogs because dogs already love it and we already need to feed them! It is convenient and powerful. Using food in training does not corrupt the human-animal bond we have with our dogs in any way, in fact, “dogs trained with reward-based methods showed increased attentiveness to their owners” (AVSAB). Positive reinforcement trainers also use other reinforcement such as play, walks, and petting if a dog finds that reinforcing. But for most dogs, few reinforcements are as powerful as tasty food.
Positive reinforcement training will spoil your dog: What does spoil even mean?
The only bad thing about dogs is that their time in this world is short. Rewarding your dog with food is the same as your boss paying you for your labor. Dogs need to eat, deserve to have positive learning experiences and should have relationships with us based on respect and compassion. If that’s “spoiling” sign me up.
Angela Rodriguez owns The Joyful Hound, a dog walking and training business in midtown Tulsa. When she is not taking care of people’s pets she is working at the Tulsa SPCA as their Training and Assessment Specialist. There she uses her education and skills to set shelter dogs up for success in loving homes.