Training–Positive Reinforcement and one way we’ve adapted it

As soon as Kasey was vaccinated we signed him up for the puppy class at PetSmart. I suppose the training at PetSmart is pretty much a quality crapshoot, but we really lucked out. Linda was fabulous during both Kasey’s puppy and intermediate class, and I would have immediately signed him up for advanced if I wasn’t trimming down my expenses to only the most necessary things.

Linda is a proponent of positive reinforcement. Give a treat when something is done right, give nothing when something is done wrong. Never put a dog in a situation where he can’t/you know he won’t succeed.  From what I have have read as a layperson, this is the kindest and most effective way to get a dog to respond. (Another thing I learned from Linda was to get the dog to perform the behavior and then give the behavior a name. I think this was called “luring,” but I’m not absolutely sure.)

Positive reinforcement, while the best, isn’t always the easiest. It creates a certain amount of frustration in that you basically can never punish your dog for doing something wrong. Believe me I am not a proponent of ever laying a hand on a dog in anger, but it’s very hard to praise and reward them for coming to you when you didn’t want them to run away toward the neighbors in the first place. When you most want to use your angriest tone of voice is when you have to be the sweetest, or why in the world would the dog want to come back to you?

I read a lot of pet blogs, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a mention of just how frustrating training a dog can be–just how much self-control it can take. I can’t be the only one who has said “you hold his leash I have to walk away for a minute.” and then started crying out of utter frustration that me and my dog weren’t understanding each other at all that day. Can I?

I have done that.  Does it mean I shouldn’t have a dog? I don’t think so. I think someone who wouldn’t know when to walk away shouldn’t have a dog. At least I know when I need to distance myself.

I think we’ve worked out a pretty good compromise to let Kasey know when he’s done something wrong, however, and this eases my frustration mightily.  I have to thank Victoria Stillwell for this technique, which she used on an aggressive husky on her show, It’s Me or the Dog. By the way, my own trainer, Linda, said she fully endorses just about anything Victoria suggests.

Generally in the warmer months our family eats meals on our screened-in patio. Kasey’s favorite place is generally where ever we are, so his bowl of kibble gets set down on the floor about 3 feet from the table. However, he developed a bad habit of finishing (or not eating his kibble at all) and then walking around the table with his nose as close to it as possible.

We tried various already known commands and nothing was curbing his desire to see if our meal was better than his. Finally I decided that whenever he came nosing I would say “no begging” and then take him into the house and shut the door. I waited about 1 minute, watching his nose at the window and then let him back in. He immediately came to the table. I repeated “no begging” and then put him back in the house. We repeated this about 4 times and he caught on, he doesn’t want to be separated from us. Now when we say “no begging” he leaves the table and lies down on his bed in the corner.

Occasionally, something is so tempting that he has to be put in the house again as a reminder. This definitely isn’t positive reinforcement.  It is, however, working for us, and I wouldn’t hesistate to use it to teach him something else.

1 Response to “Training–Positive Reinforcement and one way we’ve adapted it”

  1. 1 Marie April 30, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Great post. I think it all depends on how you think of positive reinforcement. To me it IS positive reinforcement because you are using a positive method i.e. punishment in a non violent way, as the reinforcer. I know that might not be the technical defination of positive reinforcement but it works for me!

    I love that Victoria is a great example of positive reinforcement does NOT equal permissive. To many people think it is all about giving treats for everything and punishing nothing. Wrong!

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