The holidays are over and the long winter has set in but it’s also the perfect time to send your “old” dog back to school to learn some new tricks!  The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has designated January as National Train Your Dog Month.  It’s the perfect time to freshen up some skills your pet might already know and perhaps learn some new tricks. 

Being a partner with your dog in training is very important.  Science has shown that using positive reinforcement training, which is basically giving your dog reinforcement for doing a particular behavior, is the most efficient way to train new behaviors.  Why would we want to use punishment to get our dogs to do a certain behavior when instead we could give them something they like in return?   Would you rather do something in fear of getting pinched by someone or would you prefer to do something for something special that you really love? 

It’s important to remember when we’re training that our dogs are only doing what we ask of them (the cue) and for a particular reason (the reinforcement).  The dog is always right.  If you’re not getting a certain behavior from your pet then one of two things is probably happening; they don’t understand what we’re asking of them or we aren’t using a strong enough reinforcer for that particular behavior. 

Note: If you’re looking to correct a problem behavior then you need to figure out what specific behavior is being reinforced and take measures to teach an alternate behavior and use management techniques to stop the problem behavior from occurring.  (This is the subject of another blog post). 

We need to be very clear when we’re training to indicate to the animal what specific behavior we’re looking for.  The clearer our cues are the clearer it is to the animal what specific behavior we’re asking of them.  If we’re using a hand signal and bending over at the same time when we’re asking for a sit, then we’re giving t00 many cues and we cannot be sure to know which one your dog is looking for. 

The other issue is oftentimes we’re using a reinforcer for a particular behavior that the dog doesn’t find to be strong enough (or reinforcing) so consequently we’re not going to get the behavior we want.  For instance, if we’re in a training class with other dogs, the kibble you used in the kitchen to train a down/stay is most likely not strong enough when there are increased distractions in the room.  Moving to a higher value treat (or toy) that your dog finds more reinforcing in that situation will help them focus on the behavior you’ve asked them for. 

So if you’re not getting the behavior you want then make sure your cue is very clear (what you’re asking the dog to do) and that your reinforcer is, in fact, reinforcing. 

Taking the pressure off the dog will help you become a better communicator with your pet. 

Looking for a good dog trainer in the area? Check out these links

Four Muddy Paws Resources – Positive Reinforcement Trainers 

Karen Pryor Certified Training Partners 

Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT)