Positive reinforcement training for dogs: 4 challenges.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk
Dogs aren’t born knowing how to sit, stay, and lie down on cue. These basic commands are taught by their owners or dog trainers and are often learned during their puppyhood years. Proper training at an early age encourages dogs to exhibit positive behaviors, such as playing without becoming too rough, ignoring distractions, and staying calm when surrounded by people and other dogs—all of which are key to a dog’s socialization and their safety from incidents like fights or road accidents. Above all, a successful training regimen inspires trust, loyalty, and a stronger bond between a canine and their human.
That being said, teaching dogs how to behave and obey isn’t as easy as it looks. All dogs have their own distinct traits and personalities, and some may not take to their training so intuitively. Pups who love to please their owners might be able to take direction on command, but canines that are more headstrong and stubborn would much rather lean towards their curious nature.
To ensure that the learning process is both effective and fun for your dog, you’ll need to use a training approach that actually works for them. There are different training methods you can incorporate into your daily routine with your new dog, from clicker training to mirror training. The most popular among them, however, is positive reinforcement.
How positive reinforcement works
Positive reinforcement is the go-to training approach for both novice dog owners and experienced trainers alike. The reason is that it’s fairly straightforward: dogs are rewarded for following commands and practicing good behavior. If they show bad behavior or if correction is needed, the rewards are withdrawn. In addition, the dog won’t receive any praise.
The positive reinforcement method eschews harsh punishments—whether physical or verbal—to get the pup to learn. Such a training approach will leave a positive impact on both the dog and their owner.
In terms of the equipment needed, it’s fairly easy to get started on positive reinforcement training. All you’ll need are training essentials like dog treats, dog treat bags, a collar, and a leash, and you and your pooch will be ready to go.
Typical challenges owners face during positive reinforcement training
Though the principle of positive reinforcement is simple to understand, applying it in your dog’s training may be challenging at times. Certain factors, such as the way you handle the training and how your dog responds to it, can make it difficult to get the point across and achieve the desired behavior.
Fortunately, with enough practice, you can apply positive reinforcement techniques properly and avoid making the following mistakes:
Using the wrong choice of reward
At first glance, dog biscuits may seem like the safest and most effective choice of reward for positive reinforcement training. After all, what dog wouldn’t want to chow down on a crunchy and tasty biscuit?
But conventional dog treats aren’t always the most appetizing option to a dog. Some pups might not like the taste of biscuits or eventually get bored with them. If they don’t like the reward being presented to them, they may not be motivated enough to follow your commands.
With this in mind, it’s in your best interest to choose a reward your dog actually likes. Remember that you aren’t limited to treats alone. You can also reward your dog with their favorite toy, some praise, or even some belly rubs. The right rewards can encourage your dog to follow your lead with more enthusiasm and drastically improve the outcomes of your training.
To find out what your dog likes and to incorporate these into their training regimen, make a list of things your pup enjoys and rank them from most exciting to least exciting. For example, if your dog loves to tug on their rope toy, you can put the toy at the top of the list. During training sessions, you can present the toy to your dog each time the dog does an exceptional job. That, in turn, will increase their likelihood of consistently practicing a desired behavior.
Distributing the reward at the wrong time
Timing plays a huge role in the success of positive reinforcement training. For your dog to understand that you want them to follow specific commands or practice specific behaviors, you’ll need to give them their reward at the right time. Doing so will allow them to make the connection and tie their reception of their reward to a particular deed.
Try to give the reward within seconds of your fur baby displaying the proper action. Give the reward late and your dog might think that you’re giving them a prize for no reason.
Being inconsistent with your commands
Dogs learn better when you keep your commands short and consistent. Start with simple one-word commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” “down,” and “heel.” Make it a point to use the same commands every time you start a training session. Using a different cue or changing your wording may confuse your dog and get in their way of their learning your command.
Training in an overstimulating environment
In your very first days of positive reinforcement training, it would be a good idea to hold your training sessions indoors. You’ll want to get your dog’s full attention as much as possible, and if you’re training them outside, your pup may get distracted by the sights and scents of the outdoors. Train them in a calm room where there’s only the two of you. This way, your dog will stay focused and obedient.
Through positive reinforcement training, your pup will be able to learn basic dog commands and good behavior in a healthy manner. As their owner, learn how to apply the methods properly and establish the right balance of rewards and discipline.