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What Exactly is a Positive Reinforcement Trainer?

Dog training can be confusing! There is so much information out there and lots of terms that are used that you may find yourself wondering what exactly does it all mean! If you add to that your friends' advice, family opinions and then also the influence of social media and YouTube it can all be a bit overwhelming! Everyone seems to have their own opinion on what is best for your dog, and knowing what is the right thing to do can even start to become a bit stressful! I often find my clients have been in this boat with so many different voices telling them the best way, and by the time they reach out for help they are feeling quite unsure about which way is the right way.

Whew.... Who knew having a new puppy or dog could turn in to such a stressful experience?

I identify with being a positive reinforcement or force-free trainer. What exactly does this mean? Here is the definition of positive reinforcement -

'Positive reinforcement is to ADD something that INCREASES the likelihood of behaviour being performed again'.

The key word here being to ADD something. And the 'something' that we add in dog training that is positive are things that your individual dog finds rewarding. This can be different for each dog, but usually it is things like treats, toys and attention from you. Often you may have been using positive reinforcement without realising it - both for good and not-so-good behaviours!

For example -

  • Asking your dog to 'wait' before putting his dinner on the ground = positive reinforcement.

  • Your dog paws at you and you respond by giving him a pat = positive reinforcement.

  • You ask your dog to go to his bed, or in to a crate before you leave home and give him a treat for doing so = positive reinforcement.

  • You call your dog to come and engage him in a game of tug with his favourite toy = positive reinforcement.

  • Your dog jumps up on your visitors and they respond by giving him pats = positive reinforcement!!

Do you see how you may have been using positive reinforcement without realising it? You may have accidentally also been reinforcing behaviours that you are trying to address? If you add in the other people in your household or well meaning friends and family they may have also been contributing to the problem.

A positive-reinforcement trainer uses teaching techniques in a non-confrontational way. If you reinforce a dog’s desirable behaviours, there is less of a chance that he will indulge in other behaviours that you do not like. Using positive techniques to change undesirable behaviour requires that we first determine the cause of the behaviour and then figure out how to modify and change it by giving the dog the ability to learn and feel differently. Using positive reinforcement helps owners learn to connect with their dogs and work through problems in a humane manner – strengthening the relationship by fostering mutual trust, providing affection, and encouraging cooperation. Dogs that are taught using positive reinforcement methods are more tolerant, self-controlled and behave much more predictably in different situations.

The strongest relationships between dogs and humans are based on cooperation and kindness rather than on human dominance and animal submission. If you choose to use positive techniques when building a relationship with your dog, you will be on your way to establishing and maintaining a connection that increases trust and results in a stronger, healthier bond between you.

Put simply, if your dog feels good about you, he will be happier, confident, better behaved, and more inclined to respond to you when you ask him to do something. Which is a huge reason why I personally choose to use positive reinforcement. Building a strong bond between you and your dog is so important, and has lasting benefits. Our dogs are our companions and deserve to be treated with that kindness and respect.

Dog training doesn't have to be confusing. Choosing the right methods to use when training can greatly influence the results you get. I hope this has answered a few questions. But if you still have some questions reach out! I am always happy to help.

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