The importance of rewarding your dog

The Importance of Rewards

Rewards are an acknowledgment of good behavior and responsiveness.
They make the training positive and give your dog a clear indication that
his behavior is what you wanted and expected. Reward training is
acknowledged by almost all trainers and handlers as the most enjoyable
and effective method by which to train your dog, at the same time that you
build a strong relationship with him.

Rewards and positive reinforcement make your dog eager and happy to
participate in his training, so make it fun! Make it a game, so you can keep
both you and your dog motivated to make the time for training,
continually taking your training to the next step. Use treats the dog really
enjoys. Bookend the training with play time, so you can make sure it
always begins and ends on a positive note.

How This Book Approaches Training

Let’s look at an example of how this book approaches training by showing
how you might train your dog for the basic task of heeling, or walking
with you on a loose lead. Often, this is the first command that is taught,
and it’s a good one to start with because dogs respond to it well with
reward training.

Your first step is to purchase a good training lead and a training collar that
fits your dog. Your local pet store or a professional trainer should be able
to advise you on purchasing the correct collar.

Begin by walking with your dog, and notice his position. His head should
be relatively even with your knee. That gives him the opportunity to
anticipate how fast you’re walking and when you’re going to stop, or if
you’re going to turn. The whole purpose of training your dog to heel is for
him to match your pace and your direction – not for you to ever match his.
As you’re walking, if your dog surges ahead, gently pull on the leash.

Pulling will engage the collar, and give your dog a reminder to slow down
and match your pace. Give only as much of a tug as is needed to convey
slow down, but if you need to give a stronger tug to make your dog obey,
do so.

good German shepherd

If your dog, instead, begins to fall behind you, slow down and gently urge
him forward; he’s learning what your wants and expectations are. You can
use a toy or favorite piece of food to urge him forward until he’s walking
in the correct position at your side, his head relatively even with your
knee. Once he’s in the right position, keep the food or toy level with that
position, to keep him in it.

You are waiting for the dog to understand that you want him to walk with
his head by your knee, and to respond to your choices. Speed up – he
should speed up too. Slow down – turn. When he accommodates the
change with his head remaining in the proper position, praise him
enthusiastically, and give him a treat. Always remember: he will learn and
do well through your positive reinforcement.

In the early days of training, it’s best to reward for every good behavior
with a bit of food and a lot of enthusiastic praise. Even your dog’s
slightest attempts to please should be rewarded. As training proceeds, you
can scale back on the treats and reward your dog four times out of five
with praise alone. That’s really better for his nutrition and his waistline, as
you don’t want him always filling up on treats.

No matter what you may have been told by someone else, know that
training based on punishment and scolding is not as effective as training
that relies on positive reinforcement. Moreover, training based on
negativity demoralizes your dog, hurts his confidence, and hurts his
relationship with you. Sure, reprimands may be needed from time to time
for such behaviors as jumping, chasing or biting; but at heart, most dogs
very much want to please their owners – the leader of their pack.

Reprimand to call your dog away from immediate danger, and then turn
back to positive training again.

Here’s an example. You come home after a long day, step through the
door, and see your dog chewing on your shoe. Watch your energy – don’t
overreact. Simply say “No!” or “Off!” (depending on what command you
choose and will be using consistently), and take the shoe away from him,
immediately handing him one of his toys instead. When he starts to chew
on it, praise him enthusiastically, getting on eye-level with him if possible.

You’ve just taught him what you expect – you expect him to chew,
chewing his toy is good, chewing your shoe is not.

So take the time to teach your dog, whether puppy, adult or older dog, the
behaviors you want. Train regularly, for short periods of time. Keep it
positive and make it fun.

You are investing in years of a wonderful relationship with your companion animal.