Positive reinforcement training uses rewards as a training tool to make dogs behave in the way we want them to. Training with rewards can instil good behaviour in dogs because they learn to associate certain actions with something positive. When done correctly, reward-based training reinforces desirable behaviour and teaches your dog to think for himself and make good choices.
Tip # 1: Avoid bribing your pooch.
Rewards training can sometimes feel like you’re bribing your dog. Bribing happens when your dog intentionally refuses to execute a learnt command until you offer him a treat. When you bribe your dog, you are encouraging him to act appropriately only because there’s a reward of food. As a result, your dog will only follow your command when you have a treat in hand. To prevent this, only offer treats to your dog after he has successfully carried out the command.
Bribing is a coercive form of training wherein the promise of food would force your dog to do a command against his will. For example, if you ask your dog to sit but he doesn’t want to, giving him a treat will make him comply. The training can break down at this point because, in the subsequent act of bribery, your dog may accept the bribe but may still refuse to do the command. This essentially makes the training ineffective because you want your dog to perform a command not because he was bribed to do so but because he wants to willingly comply.
Tip #2: Know when to phase out food rewards.
Start reducing the amount of treats once your dog responds at least 90% of the time to your command. Make sure that he responds consistently to your cues even in different environments or situations. Your furry friend also needs to clearly execute the command even when there are distractions. If he is able to do this, you can gradually remove food rewards in the training process.
To prepare your dog for the food rewards phase-out, start asking him to do more commands for less food. For example, ask your dog to do five sit-downs in a row for one food reward. This trains him not to expect food for every command he performs. As he get used to the “more-for-less” approach, you can then gradually remove your food pouch so he doesn’t expect to be rewarded every time he follows a command. You can then replace food rewards with more valuable rewards like walking and playing.
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Tip #3: Let the lure go.
Dog treats are used as a lure for dogs to learn a new command. It’s an effective method in the early stages of dog training. It is recommended to phase out lures after your dog has learnt to understand hand signals after about 12 repetitions.
To effectively wean off the lure, you must switch to voice prompts and hand gestures. Hand signals may be used to teach your dog to learn verbal commands. Keep in mind that when combining both methods, verbal requests must precede hand signals by half a second. You must not move when you are delivering a verbal command because you want your dog to respond to your verbal instruction and not to your body movement.
It’s important that the transition is done in small steps so that you don’t make it difficult for the dog to follow cues. If your dog feels that things are getting harder, he will lose interest.
Tip #4: Don’t forget to praise him.
Praise is a method used in positive reinforcement training. It just as useful and effective as a food reward. Your dog will respond to the tone of your voice rather than the actual message so you must use happy and cheery tones when you use verbal praise in training. Dogs are very social animals that crave for love and attention, thus, most of them are eager to please their humans. When you praise your dog, it makes him feel good and it reinforces the positive behaviour.
Always give verbal requests or commands in a neutral voice and with a neutral facial expression but switch to a cheerful and happy tone when praising your dog.
Tip #5: Give your pooch rewards at random times.
Intermittent reinforcement conditions your dog to do a specific command in which the reward is not administered every time he performs the command. Your dog would only receive the reward at random intervals. For example, instead of giving your dog a reward every time he performs the trick “sit pretty”, give him a reward on his third and fifth tries. This brings the element of unpredictability and your dog will keep following the command consistently with the expectation that he will be given a treat.
A Tool, Not a Need
Treats and rewards are useful tools in motivating your dog to learn new tricks and commands in the early stages of training. Eventually, these rewards will become unnecessary when your dog learns to be internally motivated. When your dog is naturally motivated, he will do what you ask him to do because he truly wants to do it.