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What is Dog Training?

Tan dog sitting on a green rug.
Taffy dog sitting on a platform

Dog training is simple. Dog training is complex. The simple part, training is learning. Learning what to do and what not to do. Learning how to behave. When dogs are left to their own devices, they tend to do a lot of very normal dog behaviors, barking, digging, jumping and maybe even pottying in the house! It’s our job as the humans, who invited these lovable furry animals friends into the house, to teach them how to behave there. Well, how do we do that?! We teach them.

Teach them where to potty.

Teach them how to greet people at the door.

Teach them how to walk nicely on a leash.

When the humans take the time to teach, dogs can learn.

The complexities of dog training mostly involve us humans. We do need to take the time to train. Fortunately, it really only takes minutes a day. You already feed your dog so add 2 minutes to that twice a day and I’d wager, you would have a reliable sit behavior in very little time. It also takes some patience and understanding of the learning process.

How do dogs learn? They learn like all animals. Through associations in their environment, think Pavlov and the salivating dogs, also known as classical conditioning. When we shake the treat bag, the dog comes running, they get a treat. They know that sound. We tend to act similarly when our phones beep, chime or vibrate, we look at it, we have a message. The message is our treat!

We can use this to our advantage and teach dogs that a click from a clicker means a treat is coming. We can also pair a treat with the word “Good” or “Yes” and tell the dog when she did something right. The key is timing.

When your dog sits, say, “Yes!” and give a treat within 3 seconds. After the click, good or yes gains meaning from the treat, we can pair that with behaviors we want from our dog. When clicks, yeses and goods are given immediately after the desired behavior, the dog is likely to do that again. You just used Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning to train your dog!

Operant Conditioning is the learning process in which a behavior is strengthened or weakened based on consequences. Reinforcement means a behavior is strengthened by adding (positive) or taking away (negative) something. Punishment means a behavior is weakened by adding or taking away something. The “something” is anything your dog finds desirable or aversive. Something desirable is typically food, treats, toys, petting and freedom. Something aversive is anything the dog does not like, a stern look, shouting, stomping feet, a jerk on the leash, or a shock.

Positive Reinforcement is the giving or adding a treat, toy or petting (something dog wants) to strengthen behaviors you want.

For example, dog potties outside, we give three tasty treats and he is more likely to potty outside again.

Negative Reinforcement is the taking away of something your dog finds aversive in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior strengthening.

The best example I have for this is the seatbelt alarm in a car. We are more likely to wear our seatbelt in order to make the annoying noise go away.

Positive Punishment is adding an aversive in order to decrease the likelihood of a behavior happening again. Using a shock collar or choke chain in order to decrease unwanted behaviors such as jumping or pulling on. Hopefully you are not trying this as your first approach to dog training. The reasons why are plentiful and a whole other article can be written as to why this method should not be the first thing to try when training a dog.

Negative Punishment is taking away something desirable in order decrease a behavior. Think dog jumping and you turn your back or take away attention for dog to learn that jumping does not get him attention.

As Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), I ascribe to the Certification Council’s Values and Code of Ethics. Find more information here As a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), I am committed to continuing education and LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) training protocols. Learn more here

If you find dog training to be simple, Congratulations! I bet you have a well-trained dog. If the complexities of all this are a hindrance, contact Coach Krasno Dog Training today for your free consultation.

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