Saturday, September 12, 2009

Make Positive Training Work for You

Here are some steps to take for successful positive training.
I do positive reinforcement training in my classes. It isn't the only way to train, but I do know that it works the best for the most dogs. These are just a few tips to make positive training work for you.
  1. Create an environment where your dog can make fewer mistakes. For example put your shoes away, place the garbage in a safe place, and keep a dog that is not housebroken off of carpeted floors.
  2. Supervise your dog fully so you can not only prevent mistakes but also catch your doing something right like making eye contact, or playing with its own toys or lying calmly in its crate. Often we spend so much time interacting with our dogs when they are misbehaving, that they learn those behaviors are the best way to get our attention (even if it’s bad attention) and continue to do them.
  3. Ignore bad behavior or at least don’t inadvertently reinforce it. If your dog is doing attention seeking behaviors like jumping or barking at you, it is best to ignore those behaviors. A dog won’t waste its energy doing something that doesn’t get it anything.
  4. Provide consequences to your dog’s behavior. This is how your dog learns what to do. Behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated. That doesn’t just mean behaviors you are training but everything your dog does to get what it wants. For example the first time your dog pulls something off the countertop that behavior has been rewarded and is highly likely to be repeated. If your dog can provide its own good consequences, it is less likely to look to you for rewards. Your dog may blow you off instead of trying to meet your impossibly high expectations.
  5. Establish which things motivate your dog to use as rewards, then, control your dog’s access to those things. The two most obvious examples are food and your attention but toys, walks and even sniffing can be considered motivators for which you can and should control dog’s access.
  6. Keep your training sessions short and successful. It takes several repetitions for your dog to learn something, but those repetitions don’t have to be all in one session.
  7. Train new behaviors initially in a minimally distracting location, then practice in as many different locations as you can. Keep in mind that in early stages of training, whenever you change locations, you may need to lower your expectations until your dog clearly understands your instructions apply no matter what your surroundings are.
  8. Be very clear and consistent with your cues and your expectations. It is fine to have high expectations just keep in mind you need to take baby steps to reach them.
  9. Don’t only tell your dog what not to do; you must also provide an appropriate alternative behavior, especially for compulsive behaviors like chewing. You can tell a dog not to chew on a chair leg, but unless you provide an acceptable chew thing, the dog will probably just move on to the table leg and so on.
  10. Until your dog is doing something perfectly, you are still training that behavior. Training is a lifelong process.