Training a puppy is a lot of repetition and looking for positive behaviours that can be rewarded. With this in mind, when you go to training classes, you will be asked to bring small treats with you like pieces of chicken or other meat. Things that can be easily fed without too much disruption and won’t take long to chew but that your dog is interested in and keen to get hold of. What we need to ensure is that treats and training are understood as a process whereby your puppy is training and is rewarded with a treat. It’s not all about getting treats, and some people can get overindulgent treating their dog, which is quite confusing for them.
Working for a Reward
When you think about it, we all work for a reward. If you head out to work every day, your bonus is the salary in your bank account at the end of every month. So, this means you will persevere and turn up every day knowing that at the end of the day you will have more money in your bank. The same principle applies to puppy training; we need to motivate the puppy and work with that motivation. Food is generally a great motivator there are some puppies who are not interested in working for food, but in general, most will quite happily try and understand and comply with our directions when they know that they are going to get food.
We are looking for the puppy to display certain behaviours before we offer the treat when they learn to sit on command or recall to their name, we offer a treat. Over time the puppy will understand the association between reinforcement and treats. We should not be seeing treats given to the puppy just because the teacher is talking and they don’t want to sit quietly, it is not a distraction tool it is a reward for the correct behaviour. Scientifically we can show that behaviour that is reinforced with positive praise will go on to be repeated. So, positive reinforcement is a training principle that works on rewarding the good and ignoring the bad. They can’t have a piece of chicken if they wandered around the room before they recalled and had to be collected by the sheepish owner.
As your puppy learns that the behaviour and command are associated, and consistently is able to demonstrate that they understand the command, you can start to withdraw the chicken and swap this for other praise. A fuss, a cuddle, whatever else motivates your puppy. The tree training can then begin again on the next set of commands until all of these are ingrained. It doesn’t occasionally hurt to use the treat again on behaviours that you know are easily repeated by your dog as this keeps them motivated as they are never quite sure when the next treat will come, so it’s worth coming back just in case they get the star prize.