Reward-based dog training uses incentives such as food and praise to reward dogs for performing an action you, as a trainer want it to perform. You probably have some experience already with using incentives to teach your pet without even knowing it. All animals are driven towards experiences they find enjoyable and crucial for survival. Once you realize that acquiring food both of these experiences, you can use that knowledge to start teaching your dog from a young age, with or without treats. That said, here are x tips on using rewards to train your dog.
1. Use short commands and use them consistently
Dogs lack the processing power needed to comprehend entire sentences. This means that sentences such as “Rocky, be a god boy and sit down now” will accomplish nothing except a blank stare from your dog. No matter what command you plan on using, keep it short and simple. The most frequently used commands are:
- Down (as in lie down)
- Heel (as in walk really close to me)
- Off (as in get off the couch)
- Leave it
- Watch me
Using them consistently refers to the practice of rewarding desired behavior and not rewarding undesired one, as well as ensuring that the entire household is using the exact same commands.
2. Use a daily activity as a reward
Although food is a strong motivation, you can use your pup’s daily activities as a form of incentive. These activities include taking your dog for a walk, running around the backyard, playing with the sprinklers, etc. Following the Premack Principle, which states that high-probability behaviors, or the things your dog is more likely to do, can be used to reinforce low-probability behaviors or the things your dog is less likely to perform. If your goal is to have the dog sit, you can simply tell him to sit before allowing him to do the things he enjoys, such as running around the backyard. Furthermore, this type of reward system is especially useful when used on dogs with self-control issues.
3. Try positive reinforcement
Rewarding your dog’s behavior with food is known as positive reinforcement. However, using food to teach your dog to sit is called luring. They might sound similar, but the philosophy behind them is completely different. Positive reinforcement is excellent for teaching commands and strengthening good behavior. You can use positive reinforcing to make your dog sit every time before you pet him to prevent jumping on people or before you let him out to prevent door darting. The only downside to this method is that you can unintentionally use positive reinforcement as a reward for undesired behaviors.
4. Experiment with different reward types
Literally, anything that your dog enjoys can be used an incentive, whether it’s his beloved toy, game, some petting, praise or his favorite treat. Since dogs are easily motivated by food, treats perform exceptionally well then it comes to training. Make sure you’re using a treat your dog can’t resist, preferably soft and pea-sized. If you’re going with dry pellets, at least opt in for a healthier dietary brand such as Royal Canin and make sure you use them only during training. Make sure you incorporate verbal phrases such as “Good boy!” using a happy, positive voice tone right before you give your dog a reward.
Use continuous reinforcement and reward your dog every time he performs a desired behavior during the learning period. Once the behavior is reliably learned, start using intermittent reinforcement to slowly but surely lower a number of treats he gets for performing the desired action. Start with four treats out of five times he performs the behavior and gradually decrease the treats until he’s rewarded every once in a while. Try to keep your voice quiet but firm and positive when praising your dog and avoid making abrupt stops with the treats. Even dogs get nervous when hungry.