Praise and Reward
A very important aspect of training a dog is rewarding good and correct behaviour. It stands to reason that the more times a dog is rewarded for a task the quicker he will learn. That is why we create situations where the dog can be praised repeatedly for correct behaviour. We break down a task into small steps and make it as easy as possible for the dog to get it right and be praised. To get the puppy or dog to willingly follow our instructions we reward him with some form of food, kibble/pellets or make use of a toy such as a ball on a string.
If your dog is happy your training sessions will be fun for you and your dog! You will get the best results from your dog if you can keep his attitude alert and his tail wagging. However, most trainers find it difficult to praise enthusiastically and sincerely, yet it is a skill you must learn if you want to become a successful dog trainer.
Talk to your dog: Teach him/her ESL. (English as a second language) “Good girl!” “Good sit!” “Well done!” In the beginning you must praise without expecting perfection. The dog must be rewarded for the efforts it has made. Your dog will feel this and perform better. The dog must be able to hear the difference in the trainer’s voice which should be a pitch or two higher than usual.
Pat and hug your dog: With the dog standing on your left side, stroke him/her from the collar to the back leg while repeating, “Good dog” a number of times interspersed with firm pats on the shoulder forcing your dog closer to your body. Do it with enough enthusiasm until you can see that the dog is responding and clearly enjoying the bodily contact.
However, the mistake we all make is that we get our dog to obey a command like, “Sit” and then give him a treat as a reward before giving a release command. The dog is now eating when it should still be paying attention. For most handlers the treat is a reward and they forget to praise their dog. This bad habit develops from initial training when we use food as a lure to capture a position like a “Sit” or “down” and then immediately reward the dog with a treat.
What should/must happen is that we first get our dog to sit correctly, next give a release command like “Yes” or “okay” and then only PRAISE him like he has just won you the Lotto or Jackpot! If you are very pleased with your dog’s response or his improvement, then you can add a cookie as an extra reward. The point is that dogs need to learn to work for PRAISE – your human voice – and not think that they are working for food! If the dog knows that you do not have food on you, he does not have to listen or obey as sometimes happens.
If you are serious about entering obedience trails then you must ensure that you train your dog to keep paying attention until the release command, which must be your voice, because food is not allowed in an obedience ring. Teach your puppy to work for your praise and understand that a treat is a bonus or is only used when we teach something new. Polo is again getting treats while she learns the “Stand” command in Distance control. Then it is back to a toy – ball on a string.
During a training session always keep the leash or long line on, no matter how old the dog. For puppies it is mainly for control and not for corrections. If after praise the pup runs off to go and play, follow him and get his attention back on you using his favourite toy. This is how he learns that YOU are the Centre of his universe.
When to praise
We praise our dog every time he behaves correctly i.e. when he does what we want him to do. However, praise must be give with understanding. For example: When your dog, in the beginning, responds positively to a command, without you having to use too much force to get him to do it, then meaningful praise must be given. Small pops on the leash and constant praise can help the dog to understand what to do. If your dog knows the sit command and you have to repeated tell him to sit, you cannot praise him. Quick sits will get enthusiastic praise and even a treat but not so if a command has to be repeated four or more times.
During training sessions many beginner handlers are inclined to only notice bad behviour or mistakes rather than to reward good behaviour. If their dog sits smartly on command they miss the opportunity to praise and one often has to remind them to praise the dog. We also do not praise our dogs at home when they are quietly resting or chewing a hoof or bone but go berserk when he chews your slipper.
It is possible to praise too much but this is seldom the case with new trainers.
TIMING is very important. If the praise is not given within a few seconds after good behaviour, the dog may not connect the two and realise what he is being rewarded for.
Owner praise must be the reward your dog wants most of all.