Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is meant by positive reinforcement?
A law of learning for all species is that behaviors that are rewarded increase in frequency. Using positive reinforcement means that we focus our attention on desired behaviors, and reward those behaviors with things our dogs value. It requires you to catch your dog being good, and rewarding the good, instead of catching your dog being bad, and punishing the bad.
What do dogs value? Is it all about food treats?
Rewards are not just about food treats. In fact, for some dogs, food is not a highly valued reward and other things are more important. The things that dogs value can be grouped into four categories: food, play, attention, and access. All of these things represent important rewards for dogs and the appropriate reward should be delivered to your dog when he or she does something right. Rewards are dynamic, and that is why it is important to use rewards in all categories. Sometimes food may be most important to your dog, sometimes play may be, sometimes it will be attention (eye contact, petting, praise), and sometimes the opportunity to get somewhere (like into the car) will be the top thing on your dog’s mind.
But here is why food is often used in training: for many dogs, the fastest way to their brain is through their stomach, so food treats are often an effective way to reward behaviors as they are being taught. Also, the use of very small, tasty food treats means that rewards can be delivered quickly and repetitiously. However, food should never be the sole reward. Once a dog has learned a behavior, food should be faded out and other rewards should be abundantly brought in.
Do I need to use a clicker to train my dog?
No. The purpose of the clicker is to “mark” the behavior your dog has performed that is rewardable. Any distinctive sound can serve as a “reward marker”, such as a cluck sound or an enthusiastic “yes!”. With deaf dogs we often use a thumbs-up signal or a flash of a light as a reward marker. The value of the clicker (or another distinctive signal) is threefold: (1) When its delivery is well-timed, it makes communication to your dog very clear! (2) It helps to improve your timing in terms of identifying and marking rewardable behavior. (3) It helps focus your attention on the things your dog gets right – and that makes training more enjoyable for you and your dog! In class you will be taught how to use a clicker, and how to use other reward markers. You have your choice.
Will I need to use the clicker and treats forever?
No! A clicker (or other reward marker) and food treats are training tools. Once your dog has learned a behavior and it is reliably “on cue” (that means you can elicit the behavior with a signal – verbal, hand, or other body language) then you fade out the clicker and treats. You’ll be taught how to fade these things out in class.
Is a click sound (or other reward marker) a command to my dog to do something?
No! The presentation of your reward marker (such as the click sound from a clicker) is not telling your dog to do something, it communicates to your dog that what he or she did was right!
Do you ever recommend punishment for dogs?
Well, not really, but let’s look at what punishment really is!
Did you know that there are two forms of punishment? “Positive punishment” refers to the delivery of something unpleasant, like a leash pop or verbal correction, as a consequence for unwanted behaviors. “Negative punishment” refers to taking away from your dog something he or she desires, such as taking away all attention when your dog jumps. Both forms of punishment can suppress unwanted behaviors. Proper ways to use negative punishment, for example the use of time-outs, are taught in class along with positive reinforcement alternatives to common behavior problems.
My dog is aggressive toward other dogs. Will a group class help with his socialization?
Group classes are not suitable for dogs that are aggressive toward other dogs. Although our classes are small (maximum of 6-8 dogs per class), this number of dogs is often too stimulating for a dog that is not already comfortable around other dogs – this means that your dog won’t be able to effectively learn, and his or her behaviors may even worsen. If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs then it is best to start with private lessons. In these lessons we can build your dog’s comfort with calm, well-trained dogs and provide you with training approaches to help with your dog’s socialization. Once your dog becomes better socialized he or she may be a candidate to come into a group class.
My dog lunges and barks at other dogs when we take walks. How do I know if he is happily excited or aggressive?
If you are unsure how your dog would respond to other dogs in a group class, please email or call us to schedule a brief evaluation. The cost for this evaluation is $25, but you can apply the fee to group or private lessons if you choose to enroll. Our goal is to make sure you are enrolled in the services that will be most helpful to you and your dog.
How many minutes a day will I need to practice with my dog?
When you are teaching your dog new behaviors, be prepared to spend at least 15 minutes a day working with your dog. HOWEVER, training sessions should be frequent and short. Three five-minute sessions a day is ideal. You can always do more. Training your dog is really a matter of living with your dog in a way that inserts short training breaks into your daily routine. And there are numerous opportunities throughout the day to exchange things your dog wants (a tennis ball toss, a bowl of food, your undivided attention) for a sit-and-wait, and other behaviors you can easily teach your dog.
When I have finished a class, will my dog be trained?
Your dog will be on the road to being trained, and you will have the knowledge and skills to be a good trainer. Training is like a fitness program. Just as you must invest sufficient time and energy in a work-out program to get fit, so too must you invest sufficient time and energy in a training program for your dog to learn desired behaviors. And just as you must continue a work-out program to STAY fit, so too must you keep your dog’s training muscle toned by practicing your newly learned behaviors throughout his or her life.
What are the proper commands for lying down, sitting, etc.?
Your dog does not know English, so there is no one “right” command for any particular behavior. What is important is that your use cues consistently so as not to confuse your dog. At The Canine Connection you can call the behaviors by whatever name you like (e.g. some will say “stay” while others prefer “wait”), we just want to be sure you do so consistently.