Positive reinforcement: educating and making the dog happy

What do you prefer? A compliment or a rebuke? In general, no one likes to be chastised.

And why should it be any different for pets? So put aside the option of retribution when educating your dog and leave room for so-called positive reinforcement.

This method consists in rewarding your furry friend with something he likes every time he adequately executes the commands he is given , assuming that in this way the animal will feel encouraged to repeat this action in the future or conduct.

Positive reinforcement as an educational method

The positive reinforcement method is part of  the operant conditioning process.

It is an associative learning method that has to do with the development of new behaviors as a function of the consequences they cause and not through the stimulus-response association, as happens in classical conditioning.

Through operant conditioning, it is highly probable that the subject in question will repeat those behaviors that have positive consequences , while it is scarcely probable that he will repeat those actions that, on the contrary, give rise to a negative effect.

Starting from this principle, we can say that the key to positive reinforcement is that the dog learns to think instead of obeying only for fear of being punished.

For this reason, timing is important and you have to choose the right moment: you will have to reward your four-legged friend as soon as he does what you asked him . If you don’t do it right away, your dog probably won’t be able to associate the reward with the action taken.

If, for example, you are working on the “sit” command and give him his reward when he has already stood up, your poor dog will not be clear about that reward.

If your dog is not following your commands correctly or behaving badly, it is best to ignore him. Also remember that a punishment is useless if you don’t catch the animal in the act.

Perseverance is another essential element. For sure you will have to repeat the same actions many times, until your dog learns to associate them with a treat. In this case, the rule of patience applies.

You will also have to be consistent, as well as the rest of the family: the orders addressed to the animal must always be the same .

Here we suggest a list of things that you can use as a reward, so that your dog feels rewarded and also encouraged:

  • Food
  • Snacks for dogs
  • Praise
  • Cuddles
  • Toys
  • game or activity that he particularly likes

Although dog snacks seem to be the most effective treats, don’t forget to always accompany them with caresses and loving words. In any case, you will have to do several tests until you find the option that best suits your trusted friend.

Remember that while your dog is learning a new type of command or behavior, the positive reinforcement must be continuous : you must reward him every time he does what you tell him.

When the animal has finally learned, then you can start using intermittent reinforcement : at first reward it three times out of four, then gradually decrease the frequency of the rewards, until you reward it only once in a while.

You can always and in any case continue to praise it: in this way the animal learns that, by continuing to carry out your commands, at some point it will get a reward.

Advantages of positive reinforcement

The main advantages of this method for educating your dog can be summarized in four points:

  • it is a simple method , which follows basic and easily understandable rules;
  • your dog does not suffer , since no form of punishment is used, since the punishment for bad behavior is the simple fact of ignoring it;
  • it is a method that involves all members of the family : you must always remember that the password is “consistency”, therefore everyone must commit to always giving him the same commands, otherwise your dog will go into confusion;
  • it’s a fun process : the moments of learning and training will turn into something pleasant, which will be satisfying both for you and for your four-legged friend.

It is a well established fact that rewarded conduct tends to be reproduced , while that which is ignored tends to disappear.

For this reason,  with positive reinforcement your dog will learn faster and more eagerly.

Choose to educate your dog by making him happy with the rewards he earns. It will also be an extra reward for him to know that with his conduct he is making you happy.

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