Training anyone is challenging, whether it’s for a job, or as an educator – and that’s if you speak the same language as the person you’re training! Training your dog is even more challenging, because it is a meeting of minds between two entirely separate species! So how do you bridge the gap between human and animal to train your dog?
Psychology has all kinds of great studies about this. It is called operant conditioning, and it means we buttress behaviors with positive (adding something) or negative (taking something away) reinforcement or punishment. Further studies have shown that positive reinforcement works better than any other kind of training or learning. So how can you train your dog in a completely positive way?
Positive reinforcement includes all the fun things we love! Treats, hugs, and petting can all do far more to help your dog learn tricks and positive behaviors than yelling at it or punishing it when it does something bad. Furthermore, once you have taught the dog the behavior, verbal cues will suffice most of the time to ensure the dog continues the behavior whether you reward it or not!
This is called intermittent reinforcement, and it works on humans as well as animals. In fact, many psychology textbooks use slot machines as an example to illustrate how powerful intermittent reinforcement is, even without continuous reinforcement (that is, always giving a reward) to establish the behavior.
Of course, many of the suggested rewards for dogs are fun things that we like to do with them anyway! Playing with a favorite toy or giving them affection is a reward in itself, for both us and our dogs. There are lots of other positive ways we can reinforce our dogs’ behavior, too, without ever having to punish our furry friends. It doesn’t even take very long – just five minutes a day can teach your dog good behaviors that will last a lifetime. Some breeds, like the Norwich terrier, can only be effectively trained this way due to temperament. The infographic below gives step-by-step tips, from beginning training to when your dog has learned the behavior, for helping you train your dog the positive way!
Amber Kingsley is a former art history student turned freelance writer who lives in Santa Monica, CA. This travel junkie has a goal to visit every country in the world. She has backpacked through Europe and South America with an eye on conquering Asia next. This peppy, perky writer loves pets, photography, and music.