Technically, positive reinforcement is a quandrant of operant conditioning that
that adding something desirable to the animal will increase the behavior
that just happened. In short, as positive reinforcement trainers we try to
focus on the correct things the dog does and reward or reinforce those
things. Positive reinforcement trainers don't use physical corrections like
leash pops or intimidation to get behaviors.
Why is training with positive reinforcement beneficial?
Have you ever tried to learn something when you had an impatient or unkind
teacher? It is very challenging to learn when the learner doesn't feel
safe or comfortable in the learning environment or feels pressured
or forced. When painful and confusing corrections or force is used,
it can make it more challenging to learn, it can cause the animal to
associate the training, the trainer or the behaviors with bad emotional
responses and it can damage the relationship with the animal. When
using positive, dog friendly methods, the animal is more willing to try
things and enjoys the training process more.
What is clicker training?
Clicker training is sometimes called bridge or marker training. When done
properly the clicker is used to mark specific behaviors that the animal does
so that the dog understands exactly what he is being rewarded for. Each
click is followed by a food reward which serves as reinforcement so that the
behavior will be repeated by the animal. The clicker allows the trainer to deliver
non-emotional information to the dog so that the dog can have success
much quicker. It takes a lot of the guess work out of it for the dog.
Is it really possible to get results with positive methods only?
Absolutely! Many species of animals are being trained exclusively
with positive methods. Keep in mind that just because we don't use
physical punishment or intimidation it doesn't mean that there aren't
consequences for some undesirable behaviors. It is completely possible
and not all that difficult to train with positive methods. Many people
mistakenly believe that physical punishment must be a part of the training
process and this is simply not true. The fact is that punishment is simply
reinforcing to the person doing the punishing. Positive reinforcement
produces dogs that want to work with you, not ones who do it because
of the consequences if they won't. With show dogs the dog must enjoy
what he is doing because if he doesn't enjoy it, he won't be a top
competitor, generally. Good show dogs love showing. If a particular
dog doesn't naturally love it, he has to be taught to love it and you can't
teach a dog to love something by forcing him or punishing him into doing it.
How do you deal with fearful show dogs?
Fear is a very powerful and delicate emotion in all animals and must
be dealt with carefully and appropriately. When a dog is frightened, something
is happening TO him, he isn't doing something on purpose. If the dog wasn't
fearful or uncomfortable he wouldn't act as if he was. Many people mistake
discomfort or fear of the ring or judge as stubbornness or willfulness and feel
the dogs should be forced to "deal with it" or "get over it". The problem is that
when we are afraid we can't simply "get over it", if we could we would. I still
deal with anxiety associated with going to the dentist. I am able to reason that it
will be okay, I can talk myself through it, I can even choose not to go, but still
I suffer from anxiety. I would stop being anxious if I could, but it is not in my
Fearful dogs need to be trained with desensitization and counterconditioning and
need to be taught to actually enjoy and feel comfortable with showing, not
just be forced to tolerate it..
My breeder/friends think my fearful dog is just being bratty and needs to
deal with it. What do I do?
This comes up a lot and it is never and easy situation to be in. Owners feel
obligated to make their breeders happy but also realize the need to protect
their dogs comfort level and well being. Your dog will likely be your friend
and companion long after his show career is over so it is critical that you
not damage that relationship in the name of training for the show ring. You
are your dog's advocate and you are responsible for keeping him safe and
preserving your relationship with him. If he says he isn't ready to show,
believe him, he is being honest and always will be. He needs more time, give
him that if you want to see real progress. Explain to your breeder that your
dog is afraid and you want to ensure that he enjoys the show experience.
Good breeders will respect this and support your decision to put your dog's
How do I get started?
Check out our resources page and consider the following options:
Join our yahoogroup "Clickershowdogs"
Join our Positive Training for Show Dogs Facebook page.
Take our online Positive Training for Show Dogs online course.
Check out the book Positive Training for Show Dogs - Building a
Relationship for Success