3 Keys to Effective Dog Training

By Kerry Woods
Out Of The Woods Dog Training

Kerry is a Dog Training & Behaviour Consultant and is here to provide tips, tricks and information on all things dogs!
Kerry has a degree in Animal Behaviour & Welfare as well as being a certified Separation Anxiety Pro Trainer. After working with hearing dogs for deaf people for 3 years and gaining experience working with dogs from 8 weeks old right the way through to placement Kerry now works as a dog training and behaviourist consultant specialising in Separation Anxiety.

The key to effective dog training is.....

Time, patience, consistency and the right approach. But what is the right approach? With a myriad of conflicting information to be found online, it’s easy to get lost amongst the different terms and jargon, and tricky to know what the right approach really is.

You’ll continue to find conflicting opinions online over the best way to train a dog, but the science tells us there is one clear winner - positive reinforcement. So if you’re looking for an approach that is scientifically proven to be the most effective, ethical and safe method, that provides long lasting behavioural change whilst enhancing the bond between you and your dog then positive reinforcement based dog training is the one for you. And if you want experience, not science, to convince you on the use of positive reinforcement - these are the methods (the only methods) I have used to train Assistance Dogs that are entrusted to perform behaviours that literally save people’s lives.

You might see this style of training being referred to as R+, force-free or reward-based training. What all of these labels have in common, is that they focus on the use of rewards to communicate with your dog what behaviours you want to see repeated, and to teach alternative behaviours for the ones that you don’t. All of this is done without the use of any aversive techniques, which are proven not only to be less effective, but also stressful for your dog.

3 Top Tips for Effective Positive
Reinforcement Training

1. Rewards must be rewarding

If the behaviour you are rewarding isn’t increasing, it might be because your dog doesn’t actually value your ‘reward’. Food is an excellent reinforcer, but dogs, like us, have individual preferences. So make sure that you are using food rewards that your dog really enjoys. You can also increase value by switching up the way you deliver food rewards to your dog. For example, one treat broken up into four small pieces and flicked from your palm for your dog to chase or catch, is much more rewarding than that same treat fed directly to their mouth in one go. And remember, food isn’t the only reward that you can use. Interactive play is hugely rewarding and often overlooked - so make sure to incorporate some play into your next training session.

2. Timing is Everything

When rewarding your dog, it is really important that rewards are given immediately after the behaviour that you like has occurred. The longer the delay, the less likely it is that you and your dog will be on the same page about what behaviour is actually being rewarded. I recommend using a clicker or marker word to help with this. When used correctly, a clicker or marker word (Such as 'YES') can bridge the gap between behaviour and reward. This will help you communicate with your dog more clearly and make your training much more effective. 

3. Set Your Dog Up For Success

 No matter what you are working on with your dog, you should always set them up for success. This means having realistic expectations of what your dog can do right now, and setting up the training environment in a way that helps your dog to ‘get it right’. If the environment is too distracting or what you are asking of your dog is too difficult for them right now, your training will break down and this will be super frustrating for both you and your dog. So whilst it can be tempting to rush, especially when things are going well, successful dog training requires a ‘go slow to go fast’ mentality. 

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