You have just adopted a puppy or a dog, and you don’t know what method to use to perfect his education? Don’t look any further and rely on positive reinforcement! Zoom on this soft, benevolent and respectful method of the animal.
Positive reinforcement: what is it?
Educating your dog with positive reinforcement is a gentle, non-violent method that makes sense. Positively reinforcing your dog’s good actions means encouraging him to repeat the rewarded behaviours by systematically adding a pleasant stimulus.
Thus, since dogs are opportunistic animals by nature and only go for what gives them satisfaction, they will try by all means to repeat the behaviour that allowed them to obtain their reward.
To give you a simple example: when your dog comes back, when you call him back, and you reward him warmly, you positively reinforce his excellent deed (R+). But, on the other hand, if he doesn’t come back right away and when he does, you scold him (P+), you are negatively reinforcing the action of coming back to you. This is because you are not coherent, directly impacting all the other reminders that you will ask your dog. “Why should I come back if I’m always being scolded?” your dog will think.
From my perspective, positive reinforcement is common sense. For example, wouldn’t you think of punishing your child for bringing home a good grade from school? Well, it’s the same for your dog: to encourage him, you need to reinforce his good deeds positively.
On the other hand, to stay with the analogy of the child and the grade: it is sometimes tempting to suggest to your offspring to do better next time because having a good quality is good, but having the best rate is still better. By doing so, we go against the principles of caring education and positive reinforcement. Let me explain: reinforcing the good actions of your dog positively means rewarding the slightest progress towards the desired final behaviour. Thus, this method also allows to respect the dog’s learning rhythm and not burn the stages.
Positive reinforcement for dogs: what tools?
To educate your dog with positive reinforcement, you can equip yourself or not.
Let me explain: only you know your dog, so it’s up to you to understand what will give him the most pleasure as a reward. So, you can “arm yourself” with treats, toys, or simply your enthusiasm to reward your dog.
Positively reinforcing your dog’s good deeds is simply pleasing him, so only you can know what your dog will enjoy the most. For example, some dogs are “cans on legs”, food will allow them to redouble their efforts in the exercises, some will prefer to play while others, very tactile, will be satisfied with a good caress.
But be careful; when you want to reinforce your dog’s good deed, the reward must be a little “exceptional”. Otherwise, it has no value in the eyes of your dog and is therefore useless.
For example, if you give your dog “free” treats throughout the day, he will not distinguish between “reward” treats and “free” treats. Similarly, if the toy you use to reward him is the one he always has around the house: the excitement will not be there. Finally, if you spend your time petting your dog, you should not use petting as a reward.
On the other hand, the cliché would be to adopt the positive reinforcement method; you must use the clicker training method. Here again, nothing is mandatory; you do as you want and as you feel. Of course, the clicker allows you to reinforce the right actions with precision, but some masters are not comfortable with this tool, and that’s okay! I always assume that training should be a pleasant moment of sharing with your dog: if using a clicker stresses you or annoys you, don’t use it! It is better not to use it than to use it badly!
Educating your dog in R+ P-: what does it mean?
To educate your dog positively is to respect this principle: R+, P-!
To understand how positive reinforcement works and not to fall into the drifts and clichés of this method, it is necessary to integrate the following concepts:
R+ stands for “positive reward”: we add a pleasant stimulus for the dog to encourage him to repeat the behaviour that allowed him to obtain it.
Example: I give my dog a treat when he sits.
R- stands for “negative reward”: an unpleasant stimulus is removed to reward the dog.
Example: I stop strangling my dog with his training collar when he is on his feet.
P+ means “positive punishment”: we add an unpleasant stimulus to make the dog understand that he is not acting well.
Example: I take my dog by the neck when he does not adopt the desired behaviour
P- stands for “negative punishment”: we remove a pleasant stimulus until the dog adopts the desired behaviour.
Example: I put the treats or toy away until my dog cooperates.
Once you integrate positive rewards and negative punishments into your interactions with your dog, it’s all good! And great things can come from this method. Opting for this educational technique allows you to strengthen the relationship between you and your dog and rely more on his cooperation than listening under duress.
Because, let’s face it: certainly a dog will eventually give in under his master’s blows, he will finally “cooperate” to avoid punishment and escape the pain: but at what price? To have a dog that obeys at the drop of a hat but always with his head down and his tail between his legs: I don’t call that the fruit of a good education!
The positive reinforcement method allows the dog to be well trained and obey enthusiasm, joy and motivation!