Positive Reinforcement: How to Properly Implement in Your Dog Training

clicker training - puppy

We hear about positive reinforcement everywhere in the animal world. But what is it? And why does it work?

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool to shape or change your dogs’ behavior.  It works like this.  

Your dog sits, you immediately reward him (with a treat or even better a “click”). Very quickly, he learns when he sits he gets a reward.  Using a “clicker” helps immensely with this process because clicking is much more precise than the time it takes to reach out and give your dog a treat.

I strongly recommend Clicker Training: you start with a clicker, some very small pieces of treats, a plan and your sweet 4-legged friend. This does work on any type of animal!

Start by clicking the clicker, then immediately giving your dog a treat. Remember, small pieces of treats is just as effective as the whole milk bone! Your dog won’t pay attention to the size of treat only that he earned one.  So, click, give a treat, click, give a treat. Do this 5-10 times. Then repeat about 5-10 times a day.  

Within the first day your dog will realize when he hears the click he’s getting a treat.  This does more to the inside of your dog than you think. Every time he hears the click, a hormone is released in the brain telling him, “Oh boy!!! I’m about to get a treat!”  Think of it this way. Say you love, LOVE, LOVE chocolate hot fudge cake with ice cream. Just saying that makes me salivate. Why? Because in my brain I’m already preparing for that tasty treat. My digestive track is already releasing enzymes to prepare for digestion, my brain has released hormones that make me happy and excited to receive my beloved chocolate cake.  Your dog has this same process.  And he always wants more!

So once your dog realizes the click means something good is about to happen, click a behavior. Don’t ask for it, just watch for it.  When he sits, immediately click, then give a treat.  Timing of the click is what is of utmost importance. Giving the treat is secondary.  Soon he’ll realize that when he sits, he gets the click (which is actually the reward, release of feel good hormones in the brain) then the treat.  Once you’ve practiced this add a verbal or hand command to this behavior. Once he sits, click, treat. Eventually you can skip a treat with each click, gradually decreasing the amounts of treats as the click becomes the reward.

IMPORTANT: Be constantly aware of when you click. If your sits, then stands up again and you click, you will be training him to stand. Be sure to click the instant your dog has the behavior or trick you want. I can’t stress this element of training enough. Constantly watch for the behavior and the instant to click.

You will soon realize your whole experience with your pet is limitless as to the interactions, tricks and useful commands you can do with your pet.  I taught my miniature horse to climb stairs, ride in an elevator and dance the hokey pokey!  I’ll share that story later.