Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How to maintain good behaviour in your dog

The notion of treat training causes many people to shudder. While the differences between treat training and positive reinforcement of desired behaviours may be subtle, the results are polar opposites.

Positive reinforcement is not about the prepackaged synthetic meat in the shape of a fire hydrant that you buy at a grocery store. It’s about rewarding desired behaviours to reinforce good manners.

Redefining Dog Treats

We want our dogs to behave at all times, treat or no treat. To achieve this, we need to shift our perspective on treats. Let’s start by calling the recognition of desired behaviours a “reward”.

A reward can range from a biscuit to a good belly rub or a pat on the head.  Simply put, rewards help build value for good behaviours. For example, asking your dog to sit before giving him his dinner reinforces the sit behaviour. His dinner is the reward.

Like humans, dogs assign value to rewards. Some are highly desirable while others are just nice to have. It all depends on your dog’s motivation. Dogs who are motivated by food assign a high value to edible rewards. Others who prefer play over food will assign a higher value to the play.
Iggy and I at a recent competition.  Results
achieved by the appropriate use of rewards.

Building Behaviours Independent of a Reward

The trick is to make sure the behaviour is not dependent on the reward. Let’s take the case of getting your dog to come when you call his name.

“Mac ... Come!” He ignores you. You call him again, this time, you show him a biscuit and then he comes. He arrives at your feet and you give him the biscuit. Does that sound familiar? This pattern teaches the dog to come only when there’s a biscuit. This is the result of treat training.

Always be prepared to reward your dog for responding to your command. Break free of the tendency of letting him know that there’s a reward for his response. Remember, a reward can be anything that your dog likes and the value of a reward is dependent on your dog’s motivations.

“Mac ... Come!” If he comes quickly, give him with a high-value reward. If he responds slowly, provide him with a lower-value reward like a hearty “good boy”. Regardless of how quickly he comes, he’s being recognized for obeying your command. This positive reinforcement approach teaches him to obey your command independent of a treat.

It’s a Lifetime Commitment

So, do you have to reward your dog forever? Yes! Reinforce the behaviours you want to maintain. Reward him with a healthy balance of affection, food, and the occasional treat.

What’s your dog’s motivation? Share the key to your dog by commenting below.