What do trainers mean by Positive Reinforcement training? This term is used often today by trainers to describe their training style. Below are some key points regarding my use of Positive Reinforcement and what I will and will not do in my training.
1. Food Rewards: giving a food reward directly (within 2 seconds!) after a dog has performed a behavior is the most direct and effective way to communicate to your dog that he or she is doing what you want! While praise is wonderful, and I encourage clients to praise their dogs for making good choices, I am first and foremost a food trainer. In classes this means that you will use lots of small food rewards! This is why it's important to break your treats up into very small pieces. I am a huge advocate of using small bits of real meat or cheese, which is high value so dogs will pay attention to it in the face of distractions, and ends up being less expensive than processed dog treats. Clients should always choose healthy treats and avoid treats with long lists of ingredients and unpronounceable ingredients. And for private clients I ask them to save the real meat or cheese for the harder jobs, which in most cases are when there are more distractions in the dog's environment.
2. Management: could be a leash, a tether leash (a leash attached to something heavy to keep the dog in one location and prevent unwanted behaviors. Best and most safely used with a body harness and only used while you are present as a temporary management tool.), baby gates, crates and food dispensing toys. Management is key when working with puppies during the "zoomie" times when they get super stimulated! No amount of "corrections" are effective at this time because when a dog is over-stimulated you have lost your teachable moment. Imagine the toddler in the grocery cart having a meltdown and mom whips out a book and says, "Okay! Let's work on our ABCs now!" Not going to happen. If a client is feeding dry food (as most are) I much prefer to put the puppy's entire meal in a treat dispensing toy like the Planet Dog Snoop or Maisy and give it to the puppy during the "zoomies" (which usually coincides with the "biteys") behind a baby gate. Phew! Puppy gets a job and you get to keep your pant legs intact.
3. Corrections: the most forceful correction I recommend giving is an "Ah-ah!" as an interrupter sound. And a loud, "Ouch" as feedback for too-hard puppy mouthing, as they need this feedback. (Again, I recommend putting bitey, over-stimulated puppies behind that baby gate with a food-dispenser to separate them from family members when they get out of control.) NEVER hit a dog! This teaches the dog to fear you, and may result in the dog feeling like they must defend themselves against you. Yelling loudly can result in the dog being afraid of you, and can actually increase some dog's level of stimulation. I also do not believe in leash corrections, where you sharply yank the dog back on their collar. This can result in damage to the dog's neck, and NEVER actually teaches the dog to walk nicely on a leash! If a dog pulls on the leash you must STOP and lure the dog back to you to get some slack in the leash. Take a class or private lesson and learn how to teach your dog to walk nicely on leash with food rewards!
4. Body Language: I talk a lot about, and demonstrate the effectiveness of body languge. We are always trying to tell dogs what to do, but since they are not verbal they pay much more attention to your body language, facial expression and tone of voice. Eye contact is also very important: giving eye contact is attention, removing eye contact can mean, "I'm not giving you anything for that!" in dog.
5. Equipment I use: I recommend using a treat pouch when training your dog. It is not possible to hold a baggy of treats and your leash and deliver the treats at the same time. You only have two hands! One hand will hold the leash, and if the treats are in a pouch at your waist that leaves your other hand free to deliver them! I think of training as a sport and you need the right equipment. I like a 6 foot leash attached to a Freedom Harness for walking and training. The Freedom Harness is designed to discourage pulling, but does not cause pain. For dogs that walk nicely on-leash a flat collar (I prefer a quick-release collar over a buckle collar) is fine. For strong pullers a head collar like the Halti or Gentle Leader can be used, but you must spend the time to desensitize your dog to it for a couple of weeks by doing exericises with food treats to associate good things with it first BEFORE you actually walk the dog on it, as most dogs do not naturally accept a head collar.
6. Equipment I Do Not Use: metal pinch or prong collars work because when the dog pulls forward it HURTS. Your dog will think that whatever he or she sees at the moment the pain occurs is CAUSING the pain! Years ago I observed a dog in a class I was assisting in go from a neutral dog to a snarling, aggressive mess because the owner had a prong collar on the dog, and the dog ultimately hated other dogs because of it! Chain choke collars are designed to yank dogs on as a "correction", and I mentioned above that I do not use that outdated technique. Any choke collar continues to tighten around the dog's neck if they or you pull, thus cutting off blood flow to the dog's brain. It's hard to learn new things when the blood flow to your brain is being cut off! Lastly, I do not use any form of shock collar. This goes entirely against the point of positive reinforcement training and is a big, painful punishment. I am not a fan AT ALL of Invisible Fence shock collar and highly recommend against it. I have had far too many clients whose dogs have busted through, taken the shock and then won't return because they would get the shock again. Skunks, porcupines, rabid animals and less-than-well-meaning people can still come into the area where the dog is. Shock collars have gotten wet and totally burned dog's necks. And lastly, I have had several clients whose dogs became aggressive and bit people or animals because when they received the shock they were sure that whatever they were looking at at that time caused the pain.