Correcting Your Dog With Effective Dog Training Techniques
Dog training is the use of behaviour analysis that applies the natural occurring antecedent and consequences of past behaviour to alter the dog’s behaviour, either to help it take on certain tasks or undertake certain actions, or for it to simply behave effectively in modern day domestic life. It has two aspects – a positive one and a negative one. The positive part deals with training and teaching the dog new tricks and commands and builds upon the previous ones, teaching it how to live harmoniously with people and other dogs. The negative aspect focuses on correcting poor behaviour such as chewing and barking. These can be achieved through punishment or reward, with the second option sometimes used when a dog doesn’t have the ability to learn a new command or trick.
When it comes to dog training, there are two types of behavioural management. The classical conditioning method is based on positive reinforcement and relies upon associations between the stimulus (the stimulus that causes the reaction) and the desired result (the end result). The classical conditioning approach can be regarded as the traditional way of dog training. With the use of positive and non-polarised stimuli, classical conditioning ensures that a dog quickly associates a certain behaviour with a certain amount of positive reinforcement. For example, if the dog barks whenever someone arrives at the front door, then whenever the dog receives food from the owner it will associate the sound with getting food.
Another approach to dog training is called motivational training. Like classical conditioning, it relies on associations and the stimulus (the thing or events that cause the reaction) for the response to be elicited. Unlike classical conditioning however, the reaction is not always predictable. With motivational training, the dog is motivated to perform a certain behavior through the promise of a reward. Some common reinforcers used in this training method include praise and a pat on the head.
Both of these approaches, motivational and classical, form the basis of many dog training techniques. They also form the basis of many behaviorist’s theories. The core philosophy of positive reinforcement is that the simplest of motivators (positive reinforcement) is usually the most effective. And as humans to respond to basic motivators such as food, love and acceptance, so dogs to respond to positive reinforcement such as praise and treats.
However, while the underlying principles of these methods are sound, their application is far from perfect. As Dr. Dunbar puts it „dogs are amazingly stubborn creatures that require further motivation and encouragement to be brought under our control.“ This applies especially to excessive barking, which is often an indicator of an underlying medical or psychological problem. This is particularly true in the case of young dogs that may be experiencing nervousness or behavioural problems. Similarly, for highly aggressive or fear-driven dogs that have already developed bad habits, positive reinforcement will never be sufficient.
So how should you approach a dog training teaching your dog? Should you just rely on a pack leader to bark every time and claim that this behaviour is what’s required of the family dog? Unfortunately this is rarely necessary and in fact often counter-productive. While it may be effective at getting your dog to obey your commands and perform tricks, excessive barking and other non-behavioural training methods can actually alienate him from you. Instead, a more fundamental re-education program using basic obedience training teaching methods is much more effective and can be adopted by any dog owner.
Of course, traditional dog training by operant conditioning methods also offers some benefits. For example, dogs learn their basic obedience commands such as „Sit“ and „Stay“ much faster than by using praise alone. Dogs also learn by performing a wide range of basic tricks such as walking, jumping and playing fetch, all of which are easily taught by operant conditioning. However, dogs learn best by being exposed to as many different types of stimuli as possible. Thus, this should be mixed with an equally important reinforcement programme for mental stimulation and play, particularly for highly intelligent pets who can quickly learn to respond to their owners‘ commands by responding with appropriate behaviour.
The key is to strike a balance between cognitive learning and exposure to as many different types of stimuli as possible. This requires a very systematic approach that takes into account both the strengths and weaknesses of your pet dog. The good news is that most modern dog training methods provide both a structured environment and a wide range of stimulation to help make this process both successful and fun. Cognitive conditioning is essential to retrain a dog’s mind but excessive exposure to punishment-based methods will discourage the right behaviour. The key to a happy and healthy relationship with your pet dog is to strike a delicate balance between structured training and a variety of fun and interesting activities.