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Dog Training 101 ~ Behaviors

Behaviors are result driven; that means if a positive result occurs after a behavior, that behavior is likely to occur again. If something bad or negative happens after a behavior, the chance of it occurring again will be less.

Motivation is the single most important factor in dog training. There are two main reasons for motivation. Either the desire to receive a reward or the desire to avoid the punishment. If we are to use the reward as the motivator we need to be sure that the reward we are offering is what the dog finds valuable. The stronger the dog desires the reward, the more effective it becomes in training. Basically there are a few ways to increase the desire of something and that is to first select the reward that the dog finds most attractive; chasing or pulling on his favorite ball or toy, or a tasty liver treat as opposed to his regular food. Then temporarily deprive the dog of the need to which the reward applies; either by withholding food for a period of time or temporarily confine the dog in an isolated spot. Then save the reward for those times when your dog has really earned it. In another words, if our dog receives treats or toys all the time,  why do they need to work for them? Remember, our dog will not normally volunteer to listen to us since most of the time what we want the dog to do is in conflict with what they want to do.

As the dog accomplishes each step, he is rewarded. We then build off each small task progressively to accomplish the entire behavior, rewarding each and every step along the way. This is called constant reinforcement since we reward all the efforts by the dog. We say the dog has learned the behavior when we ask for the behavior and it can be accomplished 80% of the time. Once we reach this point, we move to the second phase of our training in which we change from constant reinforcement to intermittent reinforcement; we may reward three times in a row, then we would reward after five times, then every other time. In other words, the rewards would come in an unpredictable manner. When we withhold rewards, the dog may think that his performance was not good enough to earn the reward. He should strive to do better on the next attempt. It is very important to keep in mind that each dog and handler team is different and that the dog needs constant feedback from the handler about each performance. Even though we might withhold the big reward, we must give them at least a tone as to whether the performance was good or not.

The term punishment in dog training is different than when humans think of punishment.

In dog training we think of corrections as a punishment. The correction must always be tailored to the temperament of the dog and the situation. A soft dog will respond to a harsh word, while a tough dog would need a physical correction. A correction is a sequence of events that must be in proper order and must follow one another very rapidly. It starts with a verbal warning that allows the dog to avoid the correction by performing the learned response or desired behavior. Then comes the unpleasant stimulus or correction. The correction must be forceful enough to make a lasting impression on the dog, but not enough to cause any physical or psychological damage to the dog. The correction must be related to the objective of the exercise, then a physical manipulation into the desired response. We then assist the dog into the behavior rather than allow the dog to guess what is required.

While the dog is manipulated into the position, he gets the reward that helps the dog realize where his advantage lies. The amount of force in step two is different for every dog and each situation. The way we find this level is that we start at the least amount, then gradually increase until a level that the dog responds to has been reached; the least amount of force necessary to get the job done. The job is to get the dog’s attention. The use of his praise/correction balance is very important in dog training. Always remember that the rewards must be attractive and must always be earned, a warning must precede corrections, and the correction must be enough to get the dog’s attention. Your corrections must always be followed by praise and, most importantly, your timing for both the praise or correction must be precise in order for the dog to understand the lesson.

Success in training our dogs is much like that to raising our children… By having the opportunity to make the mistakes, they can learn and perform the correct behavior on a reliable basis.

It is important that the student have a certain amount of curiosity to forge ahead and explore the unknown. We find that dogs who learn this way have a greater ability to recall learned information. This is called latent learning or hidden learning where they discover the behaviors that bring them the greatest reward and avoid those that don’t. Which brings us to the personal experience of the student. When the dog receives reward on a consistent basis for behaviors, those behaviors are more likely to be repeated. This leads to more success. One important point about all this success in training: it is critical that the student be allowed to make mistakes in training. That way they can learn that certain actions bring reward and other actions bring less than desirable results. By having the opportunity to make the mistakes, they can learn and perform the correct behavior on a reliable basis.

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