Positive Training Methods

INTRODUCTION

The aim of positive training methods is not to MAKE your dog learn, but make him WANT to learn. Dogs learn much more quickly and reliably when they are learning because they are enjoying themselves, rather than being forced into learning.

The basis behind positive training methods is that desired behaviours are rewarded, and undesired behaviours are simply ignored. No conventional punishment is involved, and the worst that can happen is that the dog does not perform the correct behaviour and he or she simply does not get a reward. Positive training methods, particularly positive reinforcement, were originally developed by scientists and used on marine animals very successfully.

When training dolphins to perform tricks and acrobatics at sea life centres and aquariums positive reinforcement is used widely. Dolphins cannot be trained using conventional methods because they cannot be manipulated into positions, and if they are punished they simply swim away!

WHAT IS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?

Reinforcement occurs when a behaviour followed by a consequent stimulus is strengthened or becomes more likely to occur again. Positive reinforcement works by rewarding the dog for the behaviour he or she has performed. This then makes the behaviour more likely to be repeated.

The reward can be any reinforcer from treats and food, to toys and attention. This can be looked upon as payment for work done. A good example of positive reinforcement is the kitchen floor:

As you prepare your meals undoubtedly the odd titbit or scrap will drop onto the floor. Your dog happens to be passing and sees the food and eats it. Next time you prepare food your dog remembers this, and sits waiting for something to drop on the floor. When a scrap does drop on the floor and your dog eats it, he or she has been reinforced for sitting waiting in the kitchen. And this makes the behaviour highly likely to be repeated! It is so simple but it really works and can be applied to so many situations. Plus it is fun and it works!

HOW TO USE IT

When using positive training methods it is really important to communicate clearly with your dog. If your dog doesn’t understand ask yourself if you are explaining it as simply as possible for the dog.

Always remember that dogs don’t speak our language, and they understand us much better through the use of our body language and facial expressions. To be good trainers the first step is to learn how best to show our dogs what we want them to do.