Does Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Work?

There are many different methods of dog training available. As a new dog owner, people can quickly become confused as to which method may be the best. Positive reinforcement dog training has gained popularity with veterinarians, kennel clubs and trainers. This raises the question:  How effective is it really?

What it is positive dog training

Positive reinforcement dog training focuses on letting the animal know that it has done something right. It is also about using non aggressive techniques to teach the canine new commands. While some schools of thought say that owners have to establish themselves as the alpha of a pack, this type of training acts on the principle that animals react better to praise. Dogs want to please their owners, and positive reinforcement works on this aspect of their makeup.

How positive dog training works

Positive reinforcement dog training acknowledges good behavior while ignoring or correcting bad behavior. With this method, owners don’t yell at or punish their pet for misbehavior. They acknowledge the behavior, let the dog know it is wrong, and then correct it by identifying good behavior.

During training sessions, trainers let the dog know they have performed well with some type of reward. This reward can take the form of verbal praise, a dog training treat, or perhaps affection.  The reward is given at different stages, so that the animal knows that it is on the right track.

positive Reinforcement Dog Training

For example, say an owner wants to teach a dog to stay. First, he may teach the dog to sit. The owner will tell the dog to sit, and reward him when he sits. Then, once the dog learns to sit on command, the owner will begin to introduce the stay command. The owner tells them to stay, and if the dog sits still for a moment, they will praise the dog. Then the owner may tell them to stay and take a few steps back.

If the dog tries to follow, the owner will correct him by saying “no” and telling him to sit again. Then he will give the command again and keep trying this until the owner can take a few steps back, and the dog will remain still and receive a reward. This continues until the dog can stay until the owner releases them from the command.

One form of positive reinforcement training is clicker training.  The owner has a unit in their hand with a button that makes a clicking sound when pressed. The idea behind this is to give the dog an instantaneous, clear indication they are doing a good job. Using the stay example from before, the owner may use the clicker device when the dog sits and then stays for a moment before offering the dog a treat.

This lets the dog know two things. First, the dog learns that they are doing what the trainer wants them to do, and second, that they will soon be receiving a reward for obeying the command. Clicker training can help clear up any miscommunications that may occur when a dog is learning a new command, or a complicated command that works in several stages.

Does it really work?
The important aspect of any dog training is its success rate. Many individuals and training schools have seen success with this method.  Even animals like to know they are doing something right, and no one likes to be yelled at. Yelling at pets during training can actually have a negative effect on the animal’s progress, and may cause the animal to become skittish.

Receiving rewards for good behavior encourages the dog to perform the action again. They may not understand why they need to sit, stay or go to the bathroom outside, but if they receive a treat or a hug for doing those things, they will learn them happily. Then they will learn to do them without the reward.

Clicker training has proven to be especially successful at teaching pets complicated commands. By eliminating the communication barrier between animal and human, this training helps canines learn to do specific actions on their own. This helps the animal learn new commands faster than other methods, and they can do things like bring an owner the remote, or turn off the lights in a specified room.

There are some important things an owner needs to understand in order to have success with this method. First, it is necessary to add variety to the reward system during training. Don’t just give treats or say “good girl”, mix it up so the animal won’t expect food all the time. Furthermore, it is a good idea to wean them off of the treats as the dog progresses. Start praising them when they perform an action, then give them a treat every four times they do it instead of every time. This way, they will begin to act on command without expectation of a specific reward.

Positive reinforcement dog training can work. Like with all techniques, it is a good idea for an owner to research the best methods before they try them with their dogs. Find dog training books, dog training  forums or videos about positive reinforcement training to gain ideas and then use them in the next training session. This will help create a consistent set of expectations from the dog and the owner.

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