Training, whether it be a dog, cat, child or sports person must be consistent, ongoing and continual. An obvious statement perhaps, but how many people (I’m thinking specifically about dog trainers here) practise the ‘continual’ element. Positive reinforcement is an EXTREMELY powerful MOTIVATOR. For example we can reward our dog for lying quietly in bed; appearing to the outsider, for no apparent reason! We can reinforce the wanted behaviour of lying quietly with a few kind words of ENCOURAGEMENT and a chin rub. Here we reinforced the behaviour passively – we are not actually encouraging a behaviour, rather, waiting for it to happen and capturing the moment. This is continual training; we offer rewards at random for a wanted behaviour – not only in ‘formal’ training sessions.
Conversely, we can employ ‘active’ training, in a more formal setting, whereby we set the dog up to succeed, cue the wanted behaviour, followed by the behaviour itself, then the reward (known as the ABC of training ‘Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence’). However, in the early stages of training it will be necessary to reverse the ABC to BAC – the behaviour BEFORE the antecedent as the dog has not learnt the word/s yet. The idea of setting the dog up to SUCCEED cannot be overstated. Failure will not do and we must always end any formal training session on a high note. I also believe that many trainers overly rely on food and mechanical aids, ‘clickers’ for example (I’m not suggesting that clickers do not serve a purpose – they have their place in the correct situation). Better to rely on communication with our dog using EMOTIONS and body language. Dogs are able to pick up on the slightest nuances, ones which humans would not notice in a thousand years!