Training your dog isn’t just a fun activity, it provides your dog with important physical and mental stimulation. Even better, teaching your dog tricks gives you opportunities to bond with your dog and learn how to effectively communicate with one another.
Before we talk about some fun tricks to train your dog, let’s talk about a training method called operant conditioning.
Dog Training: Positive Reinforcement and Operant Conditioning
You’ve probably heard of positive reinforcement, but it’s just a part of a bigger training system called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning occurs when you use rewards or punishments to create an association in your dog’s brain between behaviors and consequences. Operant conditioning is made up of not only positive reinforcement, but also positive punishment, negative punishment, and negative reinforcement.
You might be thinking: how can punishment be positive? Positive and negative in this instance do not equate to good or bad. Think of these terms like this:
Positive: You’re adding something to the training situation.
Negative: You’re taking something away from the training situation.
Reinforcement: You want to increase the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Punishment: You want to decrease the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Dog Training: Operant conditioning techniques:
Positive Reinforcement: The addition of something to a training situation to increase the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Example: Giving your dog a treat.
Negative Reinforcement: The subtraction of something from a training situation to increase the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Example: Pushing your dog’s butt down into a sit, then removing your hand once they are sitting.
Positive Punishment: The addition of something to a training situation to decrease the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Example: Using a shock collar to shock your dog when they do something undesirable.
Negative Punishment: The subtraction of something from a training situation to decrease the likelihood that a behavior reoccurs.
Example: Your dog offers an undesirable behavior so you take your attention away for 15 seconds.
Has your dog ever done something you wanted and you gave them a treat? That’s positive reinforcement. You added something (a treat) to enforce a behavior (increase the likelihood that it happens again). Rewards are not restricted to food items either; anything your dog values highly, be it a toy, verbal praise, or something else, can be used as a reinforcer. Though all aspects of operant conditioning have their place in training, many trainers choose to focus on positive reinforcement.
Dog Training: Choosing Positive Reinforcement
Why do we choose to focus on positive reinforcement? Research into training methods, animal behavior, and animal psychology is constantly on-going. There are as many trains of thought on dog training as there are dog trainers.
So far, research strongly indicates that rewards-based, positive-reinforcement training leads to a stronger bond between animal and trainer and better-modified behavior in the long run. Those who use other training methods often see a backslide or regression of behavior. Plus, being able to reward your dog, instead of punishing them, leads to a fun training experience for everyone involved.
Training Tricks With Positive Reinforcement
In order to have the best possible training sessions with your dog, there are a few tips you should follow.
- Keep training sessions short, no more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time. If your dog’s attention starts to wander, end the training set.
- End on a positive note. If you feel yourself begin to get frustrated, end the session with a behavior your dog knows well, reward them, and be done.
- Teach tricks in small steps. Don’t try to do too much, too quickly. If your dog has trouble with a new step, go back one step until they have the new behavior down solid.
Fun Tricks To Train Your Dog To Do
You should teach your dog tricks like sit, stay, down, and come for safety and obedience. Here are a few more fun tricks you can teach your dog.
Most dog people welcome their puppy’s kisses, but you can also teach your dog to give you a wet one on command. Put a little treat on your cheek and use the verbal command of your choice. I use “give me kisses.” Eventually, your dog will associate the verbal command with the kissing behavior and you can phase out the treat.
To train your dog to back up, first focus on getting your dog to move a paw. When your dog is in front of you, hold a treat up above their head, and move it backward. If they move a paw back a step, reward them. Repeat until they seem to understand they are being rewarded for moving their foot back. Then try to get them to move two feet backward. Progress until your dog moves all of their paws backward, adding in a hand signal or verbal command.
Pick up your dog’s paw, say “shake,” then reward them with a treat. Repeat until your dog begins to offer their paw before your pick it up.
Teach your dog to spin in a circle. Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and lead them in a circle. Reward them. Over time, raise your hand higher above their head. Eventually, you will be able to move your hand in a circular motion without a treat in order to get your dog to perform the behavior.
We give our dogs plenty of hugs, but you can teach them to hug you back. Crouch down and place your dog’s paws on your shoulders. Give them a light squeeze and say “hug.” Reward. Repeat until your dog gets the hang of it.
Want to learn more fun tricks to teach your dog? Keep checking back for new blogs!