So, what is Positive Reinforcement Training?
It is the method of using kindness and compassion to teach our dogs that if they willingly do the things we ask it will bring them good things. The science behind how animals learn has taught us that behaviors that are voluntarily offered by our dogs are much stronger and more reliable behaviors than those that we compel our dogs to do out of fear or punishment, also known as aversive methods.
Positive Reinforcement or R+ often use the following things:
A Marker to tell our dogs that they have done what we are asking them to do. This could be a clicker which is my favorite for working with puppies. Or this could be a verbal word such as Yes, or Good!
Your Treats are what is known as a Primary reinforcer, which means that they are the primary reason that your dog is working.
Your marker is a secondary reinforcer, which means that it predicts the delivery of a treat. Using a marker has been shown to speed up the training process as well as activates the learning center of your dog's brain.
The first step in using a marker is to make it valuable to your dog. We have to teach them that the marker means they have done something that is worth getting a treat for. This is the way that I and many other trainers do it:
- Take a handful of your dog’s food
- Press your Clicker or say Yes! Or Good
- Pop a piece of food in their mouth
After 20 pieces of food, wait until your dog is not paying attention to you and click, see if your dog’s head whips up to look at you when you click.
If your dog pays attention to the click your on the right path, if not repeat for 20 more pieces of food and then check again.
It is very important that during this teaching phase you do not ask your dog to do anything. This is also the last time that you will click to see if your dog looks back at you. Contrary to the belief of the makers of Jurassic World, a Clicker is not used to get attention during training but don’t get me started on that tangent.
The most important part of using a marker is timing. You must catch the behavior the second that it happens. If you are to soon or too late, you could be marking a behavior that is not what you are looking for. Think of it like this, whatever your dog is doing when you click, is what you are telling your dog that you like because you are willing to pay them with food for doing it.
Most puppy parents have already taught their dogs to Sit when they come into my classes so I use the Sit behavior to demonstrate how the marker should be used.