How to train your dog commands using positive reinforcement and reward incentives is recognisable as highly effective for the owner. It is also a positive experience for the animal. Positive reinforcement training is so vital that it is the only method for training dangerous animals. These include lions and tigers for work in the film and television industry.
Users of positive reinforcement swear by the effectiveness of their techniques. Indeed, the vast majority of dogs respond well to these training methods.
One reason why positive reinforcement training is so effective is that it uses rewards. It teaches the dog what humans expect from it. When the dog performs the correct behaviour, he receives a reward. Most often in the form of a food treat. Still, it could be a simple scratch behind the ears. Maybe a rub under the chin, or a pat on the head as well. The important thing is that the dog receives rewards consistently for doing the right thing.
Reward training has become increasingly popular in recent years. Still, chances are something similar between humans and dogs has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The History of Dogs and Humans
When understanding what makes reward training so effective, some knowledge of the history of humans and dogs is beneficial. The earliest dogs were probably wolf pups which were tamed and used by early humans for protection from predators, as warning systems and later for guarding and herding livestock. This was when we began to learn how to train your dog commands.
It is possible that the wolf pups which were the best companions were the easiest to train, or perhaps that these early dogs were orphans. Whatever their past, there is little doubt today that the wide variety of dogs we see today have their origin in the humble wolf.
Wolf packs, like packs of wild dogs, operate on a strict hierarchy. Since wolf and dog packs hunt as a group, this type of regime, and the cooperation it brings, is essential to the survival of the species. Every dog in the pack knows his or her place, and except in the event of death or injury, the hierarchy, once established, rarely changes.
The Pack Leader
Every dog, therefore, naturally looks to the pack leader for guidance. The basis of all proper dog training, including reward-based training, is for the handler to set him or herself up as the pack leader. The pack leader is more than just the dominant dog or the one who tells all the subordinates what to do. More importantly, the pack leader provides leadership and protection, and his or her guidance is vital to the success and survival of the pack.
It is essential for the dog to see itself as part of a pack, to recognise the human as the leader of that pack, and to respect his or her authority. Some dogs are much easier to dominate than others. If you watch a group of puppies playing for a little while, you will quickly recognise the dominant and submissive personalities.
A dog with a more submissive personality will generally be more comfortable to train using positive reinforcement since he or she will not want to challenge the handler for leadership. Even dominant dogs, however, respond very well to positive reinforcement. There are, in fact, few dogs which do not respond well to positive reinforcement, also known as reward training. Read on to discover how to train your dog commands.
How to Train Your Dog Commands with Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is also the best way to retrain a dog which has behaviour problems, especially one that has been abused in the past. Getting the respect and trust of an abused dog can be very difficult, and positive reinforcement is better than any other training method at creating this vital bond.
No matter what type of dog you are working with, chances are, it can be helped with positive reinforcement training methods. Basing training methods on respect and trust, rather than on intimidation and fear, is the best way to get the most from any dog.
Easy Ways to Have a Responsive Puppy
If we are trying to make socialisation of dogs easy for the public to understand, we need to talk about the human behaviours that elicit the desired response from our dog. This needs to sit alongside all the clever stuff about animal behaviour and “how to train your dog” guidance if we expect to succeed. Even more importantly, we need to stress the dog is not a computer programmed toy, it is not a smart TV, it does not come with an instruction manual.
Dogs learn much as we do in basic terms. They learn what works for them and do more of it. What’s the hardest to learn – something you do not really want to do? It’s not much different with dogs. What motivates dogs to learn – warm human interaction…but where affection is not available then food will do.
So, for the new dog owner the message is simple: praise your dog when it does something you like and ignore or show displeasure when it does something you do not like. The last bit some of the modernists will not like.
Yet when you watch a female with her pups that is what she does. Feeds and grooms her pups when they are doing things well but gets up and walks away if she is not enjoying the interaction, or perhaps place a firm paw on the pup to restrain it if she wants to clean an objecting puppy.
There is no intended abuse or violence in any of this, just a request to showing encouragement where we want to see a behaviour repeated and some discouragement where a behaviour is definitely not something we want to see you again.
However, pups learn best from people they like being with, and the best way to be liked by your dog is to be the source of enjoyment which includes food, play and firm direction. Most dogs like to be directed in their life, ideally to doing something they like doing. The comment about not having an instruction manual is intended to impart that dogs learn behaviours, but are prone to errors occasionally, or get confused by distractions or will simply try various modifications from time to time to see if that works better (it’s called intelligence if it works).
So what signals show a dog what it has done meets your approval. Praise, a treat or tidbit or some activity the dog likes to do, are appropriate. Thus a dog might learn to sit but it will stay sitting if it receives a reward for doing so. For some, it is simply the return of an owner full of praise, for others, it is a titbit and for others just the joy of being reunited with their owner.
The sensible approach is to avoid making them anxious about any particular task. Thus, introduce new concepts gradually. For example, handling a baby puppy often starts with a little concern and mewling from the pup but gentle reassurance leads rapidly to acceptance and moves on to enjoyment.
A new-comer handles them and, done gently, the same acceptance follows even more rapidly and thus the first step in human interaction is achieved and the same process works much the same for all new experiences.
The same process works for just about everything else we ask dogs to do. They learn to sit for a biscuit treat. They will progress to sitting every time because they want the treat, so once established move the reward down the scale to a gentle rub under the chin and a word of praise. Soon sitting is a given behaviour and no reward other than a smile its necessary.
Dogs pick up on body language very quickly. The word “sit” may be enough but with a suitable hand command, it can be achieved without the voice. Just a look is capable of producing the desired response. So be relaxed and be aware of body language. Be aware that putting the hand in the pocket for a titbit might induce the dog to sit but that can quickly become reverse training where the dog sits and trains you to give them a titbit!
Each dog will have natural behaviours and they are quick wins for dog training. Rather than taking them for granted, encourage natural behaviours with praise. A dog that falls naturally to walking to heel needs to know that it is something you like a lot.
Learn to recognise when your dog is showing you it is uncomfortable with the training process. Lip licking, looking away and panting signal a degree of distress. Time to pause, reconsider the task and break it down to make it easier for the dog to learn.
Also, be patient and recognise your own errors and how they have confused the situation. Thus if you shout commands then a dog is less likely to listen to quietly spoken commands. If you repeatedly tug heavily on the lead to get a dog to heel it will tend to ignore more gentle handling.
So use calm and gentle handling techniques and recognise greater value or force is more an indication that you are not doing it right rather than being a measure of your dog’s failure to learn.
That said, some dogs are not going to learn all that you might wish. Partly because of your inability and partly because it is not in their nature to comply willingly. However, this is not the point of this article, for dogs at that end of the spectrum often end up with specialist trainers.
Agility Training Builds Confidence in Your Dog
Is your dog nervous around people or other animals? Or sensitive to sounds? Agility training can provide the environment and structure to build confidence in your dog. Agility classes are a great place for people to learn about the sport and how to train for it. Still, a dog may take a long time before he is ready to venture from under your chair or off your lap.
A timid or shy dog can only learn inside their comfort zone. So, training must begin where they feel safe, and behaviours must be taught in tiny increments. The home will probably be the best place to train and have learning take place for your dog.
So, how to train your dog commands at home? You will need guidelines and equipment. There is a multitude of websites which can give you information on agility training. Some books and videos will provide details, visual aids and lesson plans for beginners through to expert levels.
Safe and Sturdy Equipment
There is a variety of equipment which is helpful to have at home. Equipment recommendations are based on your available space and location of training. Do you have a large yard that will hold 10 obstacles? Do you have a small yard where you will need to set up equipment and then take it down again each time you use it? Will you perhaps be training in your garage or basement?
For the timid dogs, make sure your equipment is safe and sturdy. The pause table is an excellent place to start your agility training. A 12″ high pause table, with adjustable legs for later use, is a good starting place for all size dogs. Remember with your shy dog, set up your table in an area which is very familiar to your pet. If your dog tends to bark at anything new, simply leave your pause table in the house or yard for a few days. Let your dog inspect or smell it on his own or with a little coaxing, but don’t push too fast, remember to take baby steps with an insecure dog.
Learning New Obstacles
Place treats in a dish or his favourite toy on it, to encourage your dog to get up on the table. This may take more than one lesson, so be patient. If your timid dog loses interest in food or toys when you attempt something new, trying holding him as you sit on the table. Perhaps your dog is too big to carry, so have him on a leash while you sit on the table. If he backs away, coax him; only treat or reward him when he comes to you, never when he’s pulling back away from you or the table.
Eventually, you want your dog to be able to jump on the table with your cue word, “Table”, “Box”, “Kennel”, whatever name you use. Always say “Stay” once he is on the table, as you back away and then “come” when you call him back to you. Build your distance gently so that your dog does not feel any pressure.
Once the pause table has been mastered, you can move on to obstacles, known as contact trainers. This can be a mini A-frame or a mini dog-walk. Your dog can sit on the table and then be coaxed down the A-frame or along the dog-walk. Just remember with a shy dog, training is done slowly and comfortably, with perhaps a little push to stretch him, but not enough to overwhelm him to cause a shutdown.
You can follow the above techniques introducing new obstacles as your dog gets used to them. As your dog succeeds on each new piece of equipment, you will see his confidence grow.
How Often Should I Feed My Dog When Training?
This is an important question asked by many dog owners. If it is a puppy aged less than six weeks, it needs to be offered milk five to seven times per day. The puppy will undoubtedly make a sound if he is hungry.
The feeding frequency may be reduced as the dog becomes six to eight weeks old. By the time he assumes the age of four weeks, he may start taking some solid food. Hence, mix the solid food with mainly water and feed your puppy once or twice in the beginning. If the dog develops stomach problems, then delay the feeding.
Most of the time, it is down to trial and error. The feeding frequency may be changed to two to three times per day after the age of eight weeks. However, if the dog is seen hungry and craving for food, then provide food more often than the estimated numbers. This varies with different breeds of dogs.
However, avoid feeding too many times in this age group of dogs. Around three months to six months of age, the puppy will be teething. Hence, restrict the feeding to two times only. However, a balanced type of nutrition needs to be provided to the dogs of this age group, to avoid any deficiency based symptoms.
From six months to one year, try using puppy food which is available commercially. However, from the first year onwards, adult food may be given gradually. Once the dog becomes older, restrict the frequency of feeding, since the movements of such adult dogs are highly reduced due to multiple reasons. However, a pregnant animal may be given an extra feed, depending on the willingness of the animal. You can always restrict the quantity of the food but without compromising on the quality of it.