The Basic Winning Philosophy for Dog Training

Accentuate the Positive

Training a dog is pretty simple, once you grasp the basic concepts and are consistent in applying them. What scientists, trainers and teachers have discovered is that all creatures — including humans, dolphins or dogs — learn from positive reinforcement, not from punishment or negative feedback.

Be Calm, Cheerful and Consistent

Similar to weight loss, which boils down to consuming fewer calories while burning more of them, teaching manners to your dog takes commitment and consistency on your part.

Like exercise, focus on keeping the training sessions fun and not too long — and you’ll both keep coming back for more.

The fundamental key to success:  Reward the behavior you want, ignore behavior you don’t want.

This wisdom is true for dog training, but probably for other things in life, too! There are three types of rewards you can use: special food treats, a favorite toy, and verbal/ physical praise.

Begin teaching a new behavior with small delicious treats as a reward, but prepare to phase them out.

Using a favorite toy is a great reward, too. Reward the best responses to the command by offering your dog the toy and a few minutes of play with it.

And don’t be a tightwad with praise! You won’t “spoil” your dog by lavishing him with enthusiastic words and affection. Be an unselfconscious cheerleader!

Have Patience

The results will require time and effort to build — and ongoing practice to maintain. Even if your dog grasps the concept quickly and gives you the behavior you hoped for, it will sink in as a learned response only with repetition many times, in many different situations. But try to limit teaching sessions to not more than 10 minutes at a time, so neither of you “burns out.”

Reward the Process, Not Just the End Result

Praise your dog for trying, not just for succeeding in a “perfect” rendition of the behavior.

Keep in mind that even if you make it as fun for your dog as you can — by having an upbeat attitude and tone of voice — learning is not easy for many dogs, and for some of them it can be stressful, too. And it’s difficult for the person, too, properly communicating what you want from the dog and then rewarding it appropriately.

As the ultimate reward for both of you after a training session, consider stretching out together and having a “cat nap!”

—Tracie Hotchner

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