Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

If you are new to dogs, or new to dog training, this article is for you. It covers technical definitions, the practicalities, reasons to use positive reinforcement and some common mistakes that people make.

At the end, there are suggested resources in case you want to learn more. Positive reinforcement training is fun, and lots of people get the training bug. Hopefully that will include you too. We’ll get the technical definition out of the way first.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a very effective way to train dogs (and other animals).

Positive reinforcement means adding something immediately after a behaviour occurs that makes the frequency of the behaviour go up.

Technically speaking, the term breaks down into two parts. Reinforcement means the behaviour continues or goes up in f

requency. (If the behaviour went down instead, it’s not reinforcement). And positive means something is added.

For example, you ask the dog to sit, the dog sits, and you give him a treat (something is added). The dog is more likely to sit next time you ask (the behaviour was reinforced).

What kind of reward is used in positive reinforcement?

For most dog training, food is the best reward to use. That’s because all dogs like food, and it’s efficient because you can deliver it quickly.

Play is sometimes used as a reward in dog training. For example, a game of tug or fetch. You may even have seen some working dogs or agility dogs be rewarded with a game of tug.

In practise food works best for most everyday dog training situations. You can deliver it much more quickly (think how long it takes to play a game of tug, compared to how long it takes your dog to gobble a treat). That means you can do another repetition right away. Also, sometimes play will get in the way of what you are trying to teach.

Petting and praise are sometimes suggested as rewards. But you have to think about it from the dog’s perspective – and yes, scientists have thought about it too. One study found dogs are not interested in praise. It has to be conditioned to mean something. For example, if “good boy” is always followed by a treat, then they will learn it predicts a treat; but otherwise, nada, it’s meaningless (read more on whether dogs prefer petting or praise). Read the entire article

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