Dog trainer Mariah Hinds, who has more than 14 years’ experience as a dog trainer in Steele Creek, a dog trainer in Starmount and a dog trainer in Tega Cay, and has also provided online training for dogs outside her service area, is a certified dog trainer who believes firmly in the effectiveness of positive reinforcement training.
The following are tips related to positive reinforcement training provided by the Humane Society of the United States:
Types of rewards
Positive reinforcement can include food treats, praise, petting, or a favorite toy or game. Since most dogs are highly food-motivated, food treats work especially well for training.
- A treat should be enticing and irresistible to your pet. Experiment a bit to see which treats work best for your pet.
- It should be a very small (pea-size or even smaller for little dogs), soft piece of food, so that he will immediately gulp it down and look to you for more. Don’t give your dog something he has to chew or that breaks into bits and falls on the floor.
- Keep a variety of treats handy so your dog won’t become bored getting the same treat every time. You can carry the treats in a pocket or fanny pack.
- Each time you use a food reward, you should couple it with a verbal reward (praise). Say something like, “Yes!” or “Good dog,” in a positive, happy tone of voice. Then give your dog a treat.
If your dog isn’t as motivated by food treats, a toy, petting, or brief play can be very effective rewards.
When to give treats
When your pet is learning a new behavior, reward him every time he does the behavior. This is called continuous reinforcement.
Once your pet has reliably learned the behavior, you want to switch to intermittent reinforcement, in which you continue with praise, but gradually reduce the number of times he receives a treat for doing the desired behavior.
- At first, reward him with the treat four out of every five times he does the behavior. Over time, reward him three out of five times, then two out of five times, and so on, until you’re only rewarding him occasionally.
- Continue to praise him every time—although once your dog has learned the behavior, your praise can be less effusive, such as a quiet but positive, “Good dog.”
- Use a variable schedule of reinforcement so that he doesn’t catch on that he only has to respond every other time. Your pet will soon learn that if he keeps responding, eventually he’ll get what he wants—your praise and an occasional treat.
Caution! Don’t decrease the rewards too quickly. You don’t want your dog to become frustrated.
By understanding positive reinforcement, you’ll see that you’re not forever bound to carry a pocketful of goodies. Your dog will soon be working for your verbal praise, because he receives praise and he knows that, occasionally, he’ll get a treat, too.