How do you train your dog?

How do you train? Do you use treats, toys, praise, all three or neither. Many trainers have multiple opinions on the right methods of reinforcement.

Purely positive reinforcement (PP):
This is the sole use of treats for training. Treats are great in training because they are the primary reinforcement for dogs (R1). Treat training is very effective, quick and of course positive. However using only treats can become a problem because you will have to use treats to get behaviors and people don’t always have treats on them and it can be expensive.

No treat training:
You will hear some trainers talking about no treat training. The theory behind this training technique is using praise like a clicker or the word “good” and that is enough of reinforcement for your dog. No treats just behaviors based on trust and a strong bond. But there is a down side. Training behaviors can take much longer and the duration of the trains will be shorter. Also it requires more work and patience. Not everyone has that time!

Variable positive reinforcement training:
Variable training is the use of multiple primary and secondary reinforcements (R2) between treats, praise , toys, or positive behaviors to train. The benefits of this is one uses treats in the beginning to get the behaviors quickly and once your dog has the an understanding of the behavior you start reinforcing them variably fading the treats. One time with a toy play , next time with love and praise and tactile and the next time with a behavior they enjoy like going for a walk. For example if you want to maintain the sit behavior but you don’t want to use treats every time and you have used toys already. Ask your dog to sit before the walk. Your dog sits and then they get rewarded with a walk. No treats needed and your dog will be able to maintain the behavior. The con is that some people argue that fading treats is a waste of time.

Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT):
This is a whole other form of training where the reinforcement comes from removing a negative feeling. This is used for fear or aggression issues not for sits and downs. For example your dog is afraid of other dogs. So you have a dog come down a street, your dog notices the dog and then the fear kicks in. You ask the helper dog to back up until your dog is comfortable and that is the reinforcement. The removal of the fear. Every time you do this you bring your dog closer and closer and if the improve they get rewarded by the removal of the negative stimulus. This method is helpful to stop undesired behaviors.

No matter how you train your dog, stand by your method. Understand why you reinforce the way you do and know all the different methods of reinforcement. You might realize , like I have, that all these methods have their pros and cons. This is why I use all of these methods in my training. I train with treats, toys, praise the use of a bridge (the word “good”), tactile , bat and redirection training. All to provide the dog and the client with a well rounded training experience.

So next time you have a trainer ask them what method of training they use and why. It is always interesting to hear peoples different opinions on training.


How to fade behaviors

A lot of people tell me that they don’t want to use treats forever. What people need to understand is that treats are used in the beginning of training. We use the word primary reinforcement to describe treats because they are the first or primary resource that dogs seem to enjoy. Secondary reinforcement examples are toys, touching ( tactile), ice, even hose plays. It is important when you begin training to first use the primary reinforcement (R1) then over time if the behaviors are consistent ( ie the dog does the behavior every time you ask for it) start fading the treats. Using smaller and smaller amounts and substituting touching and praise will move you away from treats. However treats are an important part of the training process and I suggest if you are training a new behavior or trying to correct undesired behavior to use treats initially. Set yourself up for success.


Positive Reinforcement vs Dominance training

A lot of people want to know what the difference is between positive reinforcement training (PRT) and using dominance training (DT).

It is important when choosing a trainer to know what to expect. A positive reinforcement trainer uses positive stimuli ( treats, toys, affection) to elicit a positive result.
The positives: This is a great way to get results. The dog learns behaviors at their own pace without breaking their spirit. The dog really thinks about the behaviors and emits behaviors because they want to, because the feeling of doing a behavior you ask is more positive or rewarding then disobeying or refusing . Dogs love attention and giving dogs attention for desired behaviors and ignoring behaviors that are undesired is the main principle in positive reinforcement training.
Negatives: people call PRT “cookie cutter” or “treat obsessed”. PRT does take longer for desired results than DT.

Dominance training: DT uses force or negative stimuli to get results. To avoid punishment the dog through trail and error emits the desired behavior.
Positives: quicker results. Dogs most likely do not exhibit the undesired behavior do to avoiding punishment .
Negatives: using force and scare tactics can break the dogs spirit.

Owners differ and the way they prefer to train, in turn, are different. Here is an example of a trained behavior and how each training technique gets results.

ie: dog jumping up.

PRT- if the dog is jumping up the trainer will either ignore the behavior by turning your back the second the dog stops jumping reinforce that behavior. Over time the undesired behavior subsides and the problem is solved . Or the trainer redirects and if the dog has had basic obedience training, simply ask the dog as he is running up to sit before he jumps and reinforce that behavior. Eventually the dog will sit when you return do to all the reinforcement they received for sitting.

DT- if the dog is jumping the trainer might knee the dog in the chest when he jumps up. To avoid being kneed the dog stops jumping.

Both techniques work but it depends on how you, as the owner, prefer to train the dog.
A lot needs to come into play when finding a trainer. A good trainer will observe your dog, ask about their past, observe their environment and understand why the dog might be emitting undesired behaviors. A poor trainer can misuse either of these techniques resulting in no or worst results.

So bottom line is : check credentials, ask the trainer what training method they prefer and why.