The Importance of Comfortability
Training a dog can be a difficult task. I know this because I have taught my dogs to sit, lay down and stay, three very basic commands. It is important to have a general understanding of the different methods of training in order to choose what will work best for you and your dog. I’ll never forget my animal behavior professor telling the class, “if you are not comfortable with a particular training method, then it is not the right one for your dog.” There’s nothing wrong with hiring an experienced dog trainer. In fact, I highly recommend you do, but remember that you need to be comfortable with the training style.
Let’s say for example you hire a really passionate and knowledgeable trainer named John to train your dog Freddie. John comes over three times a week to train Freddie while you clean the house and run errands. After a couple of weeks, John shows you that he has taught Freddie how to heel, sit, stay and lay down. After John leaves you ask Freddie to sit for his food, but instead he just looks away and barks. You begin to wonder why Freddie is not listening to you when he clearly knows the command. The reason for this is because you were not apart of the training process which builds trust and confidence between a dog and his instructor. The owner MUST be a part of the training process as well as dedicate time in between sessions to practice, reinforce and strengthen the dogs behavior and training. That’s why it is so important to be comfortable utilizing a specific training method.
Timing is EVERYTHING
A dog’s short term memory span is less than 30 seconds, therefore, it is important to use these methods of training at the appropriate time or they will be ineffective. They should be performed during the behavior or immediately afterwards.
Four Methods of Training
The positive or negative in front of reinforcement or punishment indicates whether something is either added or removed. Reinforcement is a training method used to increase the frequency of a behavior. Punishment is used to decrease the frequency of a behavior.
- Positive Reinforcement – to add something positive to increase the frequency of a behavior
- Negative Reinforcement – to remove something negative to increase the frequency of a behavior
- Positive Punishment – to add something negative to decrease the frequency of a behavior
- Negative Punishment – to remove something positive to decrease the frequency of a behavior
Positive Reinforcement – giving a dog a treat after he effectively listens and performs a command. Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement.
Negative Reinforcement – removing pressure on a dog’s leash when he stops pulling.
Positive Punishment – zapping a dog with a shock collar when he does not listen and perform your command.
Negative Punishment – turning away from a dog that is jumping.
At the beginning of training, giving a reward after each behavior may help strengthen the command, but should be switched to ratio or variable rate once learned. If you continue to give a reward after each behavior, a dog may become conditioned to only do the behavior if they receive the reward. You can also switch to a lesser value reward like verbal praise.
To prevent confusing your dog, make sure the word or hand signal you choose to associate with an action remains constant throughout training. For example if you want your dog to remain where they are, don’t start teaching them the word “stay” and then changing it to “wait.”
If using treats continuously as a reward for behavior, make sure to use low-calorie treats to prevent weight gain. If worried about weight gain, you can remove a portion of kibble from their daily allotted amount to give as treats throughout the day.
Which Method Works Best?
I am not comfortable using positive punishment as I don’t want to cause my dogs to feel stressed, anxious or in pain and would personally recommend a different approach. I’ve also read that positive punishment can exacerbate fear and aggression in dogs. I find positive reinforcement with praise, treats and toys to be highly effective. I was able to teach my highly food motivated dog, Emma, to give me a paw in one day through positive reinforcement with treats.