The biggest secret to training your dog is understanding the system of positive reinforcement. All that’s really required after that is lots of patience and consistency. Most problems in training a dog stem from not understanding conditioning or from not applying it consistently.
To apply it consistently, you’ll find that you need heaps of patience. You need to understand the amount of time required to train a dog. You also need to appreciate that you need to be consistent every time you are with your dog, not just during training sessions. This means that you also need your family members and anyone who interacts with your dog to be consistent also.
Positive conditioning means that a positive reinforcement i.e. pleasing stimulus when your dog performs an action will encourage him to perform that particular action again. It’s a sad fact that many owners positively reinforce problem behaviors in their dogs without being aware of it. For example, they enter the house, the dog is jumping up on them and they give affection to the dog. They are positively reinforcing their dog to jump up on people without realising it.
I enjoy watching the Dog Whisperer on TV. One thing I notice is that owners are invariably reinforcing negative behaviors in their dogs without being aware of it. And this is in spite of the fact that they are fully aware of the process from watching Cesar on the program. The Dog Whisperer doesn’t reinforce negative behaviors. He behaves consistently and ignores the dog if it’s doing unwanted behaviors. In nearly all cases that he helps, the problems are with the owner and his inconsistency.
It requires a lot of self-discipline and awareness to restrain from giving your dog affection when he is doing an unwanted behavior. Any attention is better than no attention to a dog. This means that, unfortunately, shouting at your dog may positively reinforce the behavior even though your intention is the opposite of that. So, it may be best to respond to unwanted behaviors by ignoring them and turning away from your dog.
It’s more effective to focus on reinforcing positive behaviors rather than focusing on using negative reinforcement for unwanted behaviors. The more you reinforce positive behaviors, the less the unwanted behaviors will occur.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t stop your dog doing unwanted behaviors. It just means that it’s not part of your training process – it’s just damage control. For example, if he jumps on the food counter, you can just pull him off.
How do you reinforce behaviors you want to encourage? You reward the behavior by giving a tasty treat or by giving affection. Using small tasty treats is probably the most efficient method. The treat needs to be given as close in time to the behavior as possible. This is where using clicker training makes this process easier. The clicker sound is used to mark the behavior precisely as it happens and the treat comes immediately afterwards. However, clicker training is a whole subject in itself but well worth looking into since it will supercharge your training.