Positive Reinforcement Training
What it is:
Motivating a dog to make good choices, and rewarding it when it does. The reward reinforces the good behaviour that we want, and the dog is more likely to repeat that same desired behaviour in another similar situation. With consistent practice, the dog becomes more reliable and fluent in making the desired choice. Take for example the case of a dog that's reactive to another dog. We train the reactive dog to look at its owner when it sees another dog, instead of barking and lunging at the other dog. Whenever it does so voluntarily, it gets rewarded with a treat. Eventually, the dog learns and makes the conscious choice to check back with the owner whenever another dog is around. With positive reinforcement, the dog learns the skill of coping with a potentially stressful situation and is able to make a good choice instead of reacting negatively.
What it is not:
In the same situation of a dog that's reactive to another dog, it is NOT positive reinforcement when we force the reactive dog into a sit or down position whenever another dog is nearing. It is also NOT positive reinforcement when we use a head collar to turn the dog's head away from the other dog, or jerk its leash and run away in the opposite direction. One should not repeatedly expose the dog to such a situation, and then deliver a treat when the dog becomes too exhausted to be reactive towards the other dog. This form of training is an aversive method, using punishment and flooding, with treats thrown in as a 'disguise' for positive reinforcement. Aversive training is often an inappropriate method for dogs that are fearful and/or aggressive, and may even escalate the reactivity further.
A dog can have different motivators (e.g. food, play, a chance to chase something, a car ride, etc.). When a dog starts learning something new, we choose the reward that motivates the dog most in that situation. For many dogs, food is one of the strongest natural rewards. Think of it this way - when you start a new job, the strongest motivator may be the salary. As you get better in your job, your priorities may begin to shift and you could become more motivated by other factors - enjoying your colleagues' company or appreciating the staff benefits. At the highest level, when you're thoroughly enjoying what you do, you work for job satisfaction.
Similarly, a food reward to a food-motivated dog is like the initial salary - it pays well and sets the pace of learning. As the dog gets better at performing the desired behaviour, food rewards may become integrated with other rewards (e.g. a game of tug with you, a tummy rub, etc.). The behaviour eventually becomes second nature to your dog. However, just as you wouldn't appreciate not being paid a salary when performing well at work has become second nature to you, neither should you expect your dog to completely forfeit its tangible rewards. That's when you put in place a 'variable bonus' reward system - better performances earn better rewards.
Dog Handling - Trimming Nails and Cleaning Ears
Dogs don't naturally enjoy being handled in certain ways, e.g. nail trims and ear cleaning. However, we can make things easier by helping them grow accustomed to being groomed. The first step of the learning process is always for your dog to form a positive and rewarding association with what it's not instinctively comfortable with.
Read http://www.cheerfuldogs.com/Documents/CheerfulDogsPositiveCERPuttingGoodIntoBad.pdf to find out more on how to put the "good" into something "bad". The article focuses on how to get your dog to be comfortable with having eye-drops applied on a regular basis. There's sure to be some nuggets of information in there that can be applied to other scenarios too!
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #1: The Name Game.
Every family dog has a name, but not every dog knows its name. Just like how they're not born to understand commands like "Sit", "Down" or "Stay", dogs need to be trained to know their names. How do we engage our dog such that when it hears its name, it'll take its attention away from something else to focus on you? Watch as Kiyo (Kang Nee's dog whom she adopted from us 5 years ago) embarks on his first step to learning his name. In this video, he takes on an alias for the demonstration - http://youtu.be/X07dWxxdFM8
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #2: How A Dog's Name Is Used.
We often use our dog's name in a way that doesn't quite encourage it to respond - we use its name as a verbal reprimand when the dog has misbehaved; we repeat it over and over again, essentially teaching the dog to tune out our nagging voice. If we want to build a quick response and get our dog's undivided attention when we call their name, the dog's name must always be associated with something rewarding. Watch as Kiyo demonstrates the practical applications of having learnt his name the positive way. Note that Kiyo receives his reward only after he has made the correct choice; the reward wasn't used as a bribe to get his attention - http://youtu.be/0TdvyLNVC5Q
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #3: Teaching "Stay"
Having trouble getting your dog to stay and not move until you tell him to? A good "Stay" is actually a two-part skill - "Stay" tells the dog not to move until you give it permission to do so, and a release word, e.g. "Free", signals that the dog has the permission to move. To build a good reliable stay, you need to work on the 3 variables that can make or break a stay - duration, distance and distractions. In this video, Kiyo shows that it can be really fun to work on a "Stay" together - http://youtu.be/K2ROVrXNTOU
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #4: Teaching "Sit"
Every dog can sit, but they don't instinctively understand that the word "sit" means you want it to plop its butt down on the ground. Dogs need to be taught to understand our commands and should not be expected to know English from the get-go! Watch as Kiyo and Kang Nee of cheerfuldogs.com demonstrate how you can translate for your dog and help it learn to sit promptly and willingly each time - http://youtu.be/hxR0CyeM4sI
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #5: Teaching "Down"
We may not think or know it, but a dog will lie down only when it's comfortable in a particular situation. If there are many distractions that the dog hasn't learnt to cope with present in the environment, it may be difficult to get your dog to lie down and stay down for long. Your dog may only lie down for a brief moment, then bob up again, unable to settle for some time. In this video, Kiyo shows how you can teach "Down" to your dog, using tiny steps to get to the full behaviour. Note that the verbal cue, "Down", is only said once each time and not repeated excessively - http://youtu.be/_0OgGcHc12c
Canine Education @ SPCA Life Skill #6: It's Me and My Dog
We often tempt our dogs with treats in order to help them learn faster during a training session. But do we always have to reward them with food when we want them to perform a specific act? What happens when we don't have treats on us? Can a dog trained using food rewards 'perform' without food? Of course it can, if you use food rewards correctly - as a reward and not a bribe. See the teamwork between Nee and Kiyo as they play the game of life skills together - http://youtu.be/nQRvFDHlZCM
Canine Education @ SPCA Workshops
Together with Kang Nee from cheerfuldogs.com, we conduct regular workshops for the public so they can find out more about the responsibilities and commitment behind keeping a dog. View our series of workshops here - http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkvu9CBJA1iFIRBKGzIFXOCB-POLu6gcE