The key to
successfully using positive reinforcement is to correctly time your
rewards . The reward must
occur immediately after the puppy exhibits the desired
behavior. If you ask your puppy to "sit" and he does so, you must
reward him before he stands up again. If he is already standing when
he receives the reward, he will think he was rewarded for standing up.
Consistency is an absolute must.
Every member of the family that works with the puppy must use the same
commands. To help younger family members become familiar with the
correct commands try posting them in prominent locations throughout
the house. Remember to keep your commands short and simple: "sit,"
"stay," "down" (meaning lie down), "off" (means don’t jump on me or
get off the furniture), "stand," "come," "heel,” “kennel" (means go in
your crate). You may find other commands that are appropriate as
your puppy gets older: "let’s go," “car,” or "walk". Consistent
training means you always reward the desired behavior and never reward
Rewards may include treats, praise,
petting, a short playtime or a favorite toy. Food treats should be
irresistible to your pet. They should be very small, soft pieces of
food that he can gulp down and immediately look back to you for more.
If you use treats that he has to chew or that break into small pieces
that fall on the floor, he will not be paying attention to you.
Bil-Jac liver treats, small pieces of hot dogs, cheese, and cooked
chicken or beef all work well. Experiment with your puppy to see what
will get and keep his attention focused on you. Treats can be
carried in a pocket, a treat bag on your belt or in a fanny pack.
Food rewards should always be used in conjunction with a verbal praise
reward such as “Good dog!” Verbal praise should always be delivered
in a positive, happy voice. For dogs that are not highly motivated
by food treats, you can use their favorite toy, petting (maybe a tummy
rub!) or a special game as a reward.
When you first begin to teach your
puppy a new behavior, you will reward him every time he does what you
ask. This sometimes means rewarding him for doing something close to
the desired response and then gradually insisting on a more complex
behavior. When you begin teaching your pup to “sit”, you will need
to push his rear to the ground to give him the idea. Reward and
praise him as soon as you get his rear on the ground. As he begins to
understand what you are asking of him, you will not reward him until
he places his rear on the ground without your help. Once he knows
what you are asking, you can withhold the treat until he has sat in
place for several seconds and is consistently watching you for further
Once your puppy has reliably
learned the desired behavior, you should begin using treats
intermittently and your praise can be a quieter, less effusive "Good
dog." Gradually reduce the frequency of the food rewards in an
inconsistent pattern so that he doesn’t know exactly when he will get
a food reward. By only occasionally rewarding the puppy with a food
treat, he will learn that he eventually gets the treat if he keeps
responding with the correct behavior.
Training with food treats does not
mean that you will perpetually have doggie biscuits in your pockets.
Your puppy wants to please you and he will soon be happy knowing that
his actions can elicit verbal praise and the occasional treat.
Remember to take advantage of all the small opportunities to reinforce
your puppy’s good behavior. There are innumerable opportunities in
your everyday schedule to practice your commands and to reward good
behavior. You can use your commands to help prevent problem behaviors
as well. Making your puppy “sit” before going in or out a door or
when greeting visitors can help prevent your puppy from escaping into
the street or knocking down a small child that’s visiting or it can
help with submissive urination. Don’t forget to reward your puppy
for just lying quietly by your feet or for chewing on his own toys.
Punishment has its’ place in any
training schedule, but to be effective, it must be delivered in a
correct and timely manner. The only acceptable time to punish your
puppy is if you actually catch him in the act of exhibiting
undesirable behavior. If you deliver the punishment too late your
puppy will not associate it with the undesirable behavior and he is
likely to become fearful and distrusting of you.
Punishment can be verbal, postural
and/or physical. It is used immediately following a behavior that is
undesirable to discourage the puppy from displaying that behavior
again. Physical punishment generally incorporates some level of
discomfort for the puppy or dog and must not be used indiscriminately
as the dog’s only way to defend himself is to bite. Scruff shakes and
"alpha rolls" are acceptable forms of discipline for experienced
trainers, but they can result in bites if the puppy or dog doesn’t
perceive you to be his superior.
You must think carefully before you
use any form of punishment on your puppy. Punishment can sometimes
have unexpected results. I know of several instances where a dog was
punished for getting too close to a small child and the result was
that the animal became fearful and/or aggressive either to that child
or children in general. Instead of inducing respect for children, as
was intended, the punishment instead made the dogs fearful of children
and caused them to feel the need to protect themselves when confronted
by small humans. Some of these dogs ended up in shelters or
destroyed because they were considered untrustworthy!