Most of us may have heard the term positive reinforcement. If you think about it what is the first thought that comes to mind? I think for most people in the dog world this would mean working with treats and never correcting unwanted behaviour.

But what if you could mold a behaviour that is wanted without always saying no to the the unwanted behaviour?

Lets use the following example. Your dear aunt is always complaining on the phone when ever you phone her about all her aces and pains. When you phone her start the conversation with a positive subject. Encourage good thoughts and praise her when she says something positive. The moment she starts to talk negative stop the conversation and say good bye. Do this every time you phone her. Soon without really noticing it she will start being more positive when she talks to you.

If your partner is lazy around the house, start praising him for little things that he does do even if it is not exactly the way you want it, but it is in that direction. You wanted him to maw the lawn but he only did the edges. As time goes on you will later not praise him for cutting the edges but only when he cuts half the lawn and so on. It is also very important to be accurate in timing. You want to reinforce the behaviuor as your partner is busy with cutting the lawn and not two hours later. This way your partner will feel good and encouraged to keep on cutting the lawn. Next time you will only praise your partner when he has done 3/4 and so on. Do not say yes this is nice but you did not take out the trash. On these days invite guests over and let your partner feel good about what he did.

Yes, you might say but why should I praise him/her for doing a chore he is suppose to do? That could be true in the short term but in the long run your partner will feel good about himself, he will be positive towards you because you did not nag him. He will also feel he decided to do it on his own and he was not forced to do so as well as you will have the lawn cut every Saturday.

This is exactly the same in dog training. We use a clicker to mark the behaviour and reward with a treat, toy, affaction or what ever your dog adds value too. The treat does not have to come immediately, but the click does. The same with your partner. You will tell your partner how nice the lawn is looking and thanking him for cutting it and then reward later with a movie or his favourite dinner.

Lets use a dog example: If you have a puppy in a room that cries all the time, you would not open the door un less he is quiet. The reward would be that he is coming out of the room so you would not need to use a treat. This may get worse before it gets better as like with kids the puppy will test your limits and his boundaries. So we need to be strong and consistent. Consistency is very important in training. Another example is teaching your dog to walk next to you on lead. If he pulls you stop, if steps back and the lead is loose you would go forward. Going forward is the reward. Or if he walks nicely you would reward your dog with having time to sniff around.

You can also shape a new behaviour by using a behaviour that already exist. For instance if your dog barks you can shape the behaviour by rewarding your dog for when he is not barking and giving that a verbal cue. Again using the clicker to mark the behaviour works well.

I am not saying you can never say no. But like humans dogs learn better through positive experiences and not through fear. With fear they only associate the behaviour with you and could still do the unwanted behaviour when you are not present.

For more on shaping behaviour and training through positive reinforcement please contact me by clicking on the reply button of this info letter.

Warmly, Me and all 20 paws:)

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I would like to thank Certified Profesional dog trainer Kirsten R Frisch who also "owns" Huskies for the webinar that she presented for dog-care-centre about mushing/sledding earlier this year.

Her next webinar will be in October about conditioning for sled dogs. If you are interested to join please contact me.