Best Puppy Training Methods Using Positive Reinforcement

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I’m kidding, of course, but there are many techniques and methods for training dogs.

Best Puppy Training Methods Using Positive Reinforcement

Reward based training, scientific training, operant conditioning, pack leaders, positive reinforcement, dominance theory, Kohler method, “Caesar’s Way”…the list could go on too long.

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While there are many different styles of dog training, they all share some basic concepts, and the application of these concepts varies.

This article compares the most common dog training methods, explains the terminology, and gives you a general overview of what’s involved.

The method or combination of methods you ultimately decide to use in your Labrador training regimen depends on what works best for your personality type and what works best for you and your dog.

Ivan Pavlov experimented with ringing a bell before pouring meat powder into the dog each time. The meat powder definitely made the dogs drool.

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Initially, the ringing of the bell was an event completely unrelated to the drooling of dogs. But by repeatedly ringing the bell before giving the meat powder, the dogs learned that the meat was on its way.

When your Labrador hears his bowl, he starts salivating, and when he sees you walking on a leash, he gets excited to go out for a walk.

Such associations can be made and predictable triggered behaviors can be used to the trainer’s advantage, although compared to other techniques, it is not one of the most commonly used dog training methods.

For those who are learning more and want a deeper understanding (this is not the easiest of reading), check out the Wikipedia article on classic conditionals.

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“Operational conditioning” is a method of training dogs to manipulate the environment in such a way that the behavior produces either pleasant or unpleasant consequences.

If your Labrador behaves in a certain way and something good happens to him, he will likely reinforce that behavior. However, if your lab is behaving as a negative consequence, it will learn to curb this behavior over time.

Operative conditioning consists of 4 elements (or quadrants). Before we list them, it’s worth knowing that “punishment” weakens the behavior and “reinforcement” increases it.

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“Positive” and “Negative” are not good and bad things, they only refer to adding or taking something away respectively:

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These methods are very effective and have been used for decades to train dogs, dolphins, parrots and rats.

For a good overview of operant conditioning and how it was used to train dogs to drive cars (I’m not kidding!), check out the following Scientific America article on operant conditioning.

The term “traditional training” is used to describe methods that predate the modern “science-based” methods used by (mostly) everyone today after our knowledge of how dogs think and learn has dramatically increased.

Most of the theories stem from dominance theories and wolf pack theories that have been refuted by modern science.

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Traditional training allows the dog to make mistakes and punishes them to reduce such behavior in the future.

The theory is that dogs misbehave because they are trying to take over dominance, and the trainer spends his time convincing the dog that he is the more dominant “alpha” and needs to obey.

Traditional trainers use corrections such as harsh leash pulls, pinches, grabs, and “alpha rolls” when misbehavior is noticed, though most combine this with praise (and perhaps even rewards) to reinforce correct behavior.

The Kohler method is one of the most famous and popular models of traditional training. Caesar Millan fits best in this camp with his hegemonic theories.

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There’s a lot of hype around “science-based dog training” these days, but it’s hard to narrow it down to one all-encompassing definition because of the wide scope and ever-changing theories.

Science-based training includes a deep understanding of dogs, their temperament, behavior, operant conditioning, classical conditioning, punishment, reinforcement, everything covered in this article, and more.

Science-based dog training is constantly evolving based on the results of experiments conducted by behaviorists and veterinarians who strive to truly understand dogs.

The science-based trainer will understand traditional methods, dominance theory and wolf pack theory.

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They do know, however, that these theories have been disproved and proven wrong, that force and physical punishment are unnecessary, and that these methods lead to dogs with repressed personalities and “obedience only out of fear.”

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Science-based trainers try to train dogs in the most humane way possible, taking into account their psychological needs and natural learning methods.

They try to work with the dog, not rule it with an iron fist.

As new research begins, new evidence emerges, discarding old theories and introducing new ones, resulting in discarding old methods and adopting new ones.

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Most science-based training focuses on operant conditioning but takes more factors into account.

For example, before trying to change a behavior, a person first learns and understands everything that surrounds and guides him.

The world of science-based practice is so vast that an entire library could be filled with available information.

I couldn’t start a full coverage of the topic here, so I can only suggest to those interested to go to Google, where you will find thousands of articles on this topic.

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While positive reinforcement is part of operant conditioning, when used to describe a training method, it refers to a trainer using only positive reinforcement, making it an absolutely essential method of their technique. Good behaviors are rewarded while bad or undesirable behaviors are ignored.

I’ve read that this method works, but it’s usually not very effective because you never tell the dog that the behavior is wrong.

This can lead to an increase in bad behavior because by ignoring the behavior, we allow the dog to find its own reward and thus reinforce the behavior.

For example: if your Labrador chases a squirrel and you ignore it without telling your lab that this behavior is wrong, he will be rewarded because chasing a squirrel is fun.

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He has found his own reward and would definitely like to do it again. The bad behavior escalated.

For this reason, using positive reinforcement is not a good strategy. It is widely believed that some forms of punishment should be used in combination.

The word “negative” here doesn’t mean bad, and it certainly doesn’t mean abusing the dog. Remember that “negative” means taking something away, and “reinforcing” means trying to reinforce the behavior.

Negative reinforcement is difficult to describe because in most cases it can be seen as positive punishment. Depending on the view taken and the desired result, the same operation can be performed.

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For example: When using a halter on your head while walking your dog, if he tries to walk to the right, gently pull it to correct it to the left:

Which is correct? Personally, I think this is negative reinforcement, but I’m open to debate, so feel free to discuss in the comment section 🙂

Clicker training is a very effective and very popular type of marker training that uses a clicker as a marker.

Clicker training uses a small handheld sound device that you use to “mark” the point where your dog completes the desired behavior. It is easier to mark where the desired behavior ends with a click than with a voice. This makes the communication between you and your dog much better, leading to more effective training.

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How it’s working? First there’s a bit of classical conditioning where you mark good behavior with one click and then reward your Labrador.

After a few iterations, the lab will soon associate the click with the reward, and the click itself will soon become satisfying enough that the treats can be withdrawn.

Then it moves on to operant conditioning, where you use a clicker for positive reinforcement, clicking each time the desired behavior is performed.

By using a command and associating it with a behavior at the same time as clicker training, you can quickly teach your Labrador obedience commands in an easy and fun way.

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I won’t go into details about pilot training here as there are plans to create a whole dedicated section elsewhere on the site.

For a good introduction to clicker training, I recommend checking out the library section at www.clicker training.com.

Karen Pryor was a true pioneer when it came to operant conditioning and pilot training, so the information on her site is second to none.

This article discusses some important concepts to use to successfully train your Labrador. The key takeaway is that your Labrador’s behavior has been shaped by punishment or force.

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Most people recoil in fear