The Art Of Praise: How To Praise Your Dog
An obedient dog does not happen with time or with age. A well behaved, well balanced and calm dog will be something you consistently work towards with regular training and correct technique. If you work at something long enough, you’ll eventually see the results but what if we told you that your technique will be crucial in fast tracking your success. If your delivery on feedback and praise is on point, you’ll meet your training goals sooner rather than later.
We’re explaining how to deliver praise to best optimise your chance for success when training;
ESTABLISHING THE BEST INCENTIVE FOR YOUR DOG
Praise and reward can look like many different things for different dogs; it can be a food reward, playing with a ball, words of affirmation, affection, laughing, and even just looking at your dog.
A reward that one dog may work for, will not necessarily be the object of desire for another. In order to get the best from your dog, specifically when training will depend on their own drives, which you as the owner will need to identify to optimise your chance for success.
Often, a treat will suffice, and if your dog is food driven, training can be a much quicker process.
For a play driven dog, a treat has got nothing on their favourite ball or toy. If your dog will take a tennis ball over anything else, this may be the course you’ll need to take to train your dog.
Once you have established what drives your dog, use it to your advantage and apply it to your training. Identifying what makes your dog work will be the sure-fire way to nail your training goals.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
As the saying goes, timing is everything. This could not be more applicable to training. A well-timed reward will be quickly associated with the action. A poorly timed reward can easily be reinforcing a different behaviour, confusing the dog and thus making your training process slower.
The same goes for reprimanding. Dogs live in the present. They do not dwell in the past. If your dog has chewed your favourite shoe or toileted on the rug and you discover it 10 minutes later and scold them, your response and feedback will only be associated with what they are doing in that exact moment.
They are not thinking; “Wow, he’s mad – he must have found the wee, my bad”
Even a mere few seconds can be too long, the dog has already moved passed it and therefore your reward or feedback will become obsolete. You gotta be quick!
Depending on the reward you choose to incorporate in your training, it can be slow to pinpoint the exact behaviour.
Example; Your dog drops at a distance, by the time you reach him with a treat, the moment has passed.
To combat this, you can immediately mark the behaviour and follow up with the reward. The most common forms of marking a behaviour is through clicker training or verbal markers. Before either of these will be successful, you must associate the marker with the reward.
Contrary to popular belief, the “click sound” is not the reward
Simply put, the “click sound” is the symbol that the behaviour is good and the reward is coming. Dogs will not come up with this on their own. In order to incorporate the clicker into your training, you must first establish its significance by “charging the clicker” and giving it meaning to your dog.
Once your dog understands what the “clicker” signifies you can quickly and effectively communicate with your dog. Now when your dog complies with a command, mark it instantly with a click, followed with a reward. With consistency, the dog will make a connection with the “click”, and the behaviour.
A verbal marker holds a similar concept to the clicker. Commonly, this practice is made up of three key words; NO, GOOD, YES!
No – Letting the dog know that this is NOT what you want
Good – To extend the behaviour
YES – To mark the behaviour followed by the reward
Just as the clicker holds no significance until taught, the same applies with verbal markers, as dogs do not speak English. First, they must learn the meaning. Just as the clicker needs to be charged, so does a good “YES”.
To help your dog understand the meaning, simple training exercises can be done. This will take perseverance.
An exercise; Hold a ball out to your side, if your dog is play driven, his focus will on the ball. Continue saying “NO” until he breaks focus and looks at you. Instantly say “YES” and toss the ball. By doing this, you give your dog the opportunity to troubleshoot and try a new behaviour that may result in him getting the award.
Once your dog, understands that “NO” means “that behaviour is not what I’m wanting” and the “YES” means he’s hit jackpot and the reward will be granted, you can incorporate a new word, “GOOD”.
“Good” is the extender, in this case, when he shifts focus from the ball and looks at you, “good” will be the verbal marker to indicate you want the behaviour continued. At first the dog will look back to the ball, needing a “NO” response.
With consistency, your dog will soon understand the basis of NO, GOOD, YES and with consistency it will in turn, sharpen your own response for timing when you train.
ONLY GIVE PRAISE ACCORDINGLY
Too often we see owners unintentionally praise undesirable behaviour and with enough repetition of this, naughty behaviour can become learned. Being aware of this will be paramount to training, especially when working with a puppy or excitable young dog.
As much as we want to shower our dogs with love (more so when they are awfully cute puppies) constant petting, affection, spoiling and excited words are all forms of praise and reward so you will need to be mindful of the whole situation.
What are they doing in that very moment?
Are they attention seeking, barking or chewing? Are they mouthing and biting? These are all behaviours that should be discouraged so be mindful of your reaction as this can involuntarily reinforce said behaviour making it difficult to correct, should it become a habit.