Secrets of Dog Training Professionals Reinforcement

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Secrets of Dog Training Professionals Reinforcement

by Aidan Bindoff

Have you ever wondered how really good dog trainers come up with the techniques they use to solve behaviour problems in dogs such as excessive barking, destructive chewing, toileting in the house and jumping up on visitors? Or how top dog trainers come up with ways to train dogs in top obedience and working competitions? Apart from a few ?naturals?, most really good dog trainers have a very good understanding of how dogs learn. They have adapted theory from the world of behavioural science and turned that knowledge into real-life practical skills for training dogs. This article explains in plain English some of the science and theory behind dog training, these really are secrets of the dog training professionals!

You've probably heard the term "Reinforcement" before, but do you know what it really means?

Reinforcement is the term behavior analysts use when a behavior has been maintained or increased in frequency, duration or intensity.

An example, a dog learns to sit to be patted, each time he is patted he learns to sit more often or for longer.

This means if you want a dog to keep doing something, or do it more often, more intensely or for longer, that behavior needs to be reinforced.

The traditional method of reinforcement was to do something the dog didn't like and stop doing it when the dog complied with the command.

These days most dog training professionals use Positive Reinforcement, we give the dog something he wants when he does something we want! This could be a food treat, a game, a toy, access to outdoors, a walk around the neighbourhood, a scratch behind the ear - the list goes on... but mostly we use food because it is convenient and all dogs need to eat!

Sometimes it's not obvious to the dog exactly what we are trying to reinforce, and reinforcement of the desired behaviour does not occur as a result. The easiest solution is to use what behavior analysts call a "bridging stimulus", usually a sound used to mark the target behavior. This can be a simple and consistent "good boy!", but many dog trainers are discovering the advantages of clickers which mark tiny pieces of behaviour very precisely when used correctly. Like most things, it's a case of getting some practise. I liken it to learning how to press the shutter on a camera at the right moment.

When can we say we have Reinforced behavior?

By definition, we can only say reinforcement has occurred when we measure the increase or maintenance of a particular behavior.

Scientists would carefully measure behavior, but for most of us we're just happy to make a casual observation that a behavior has indeed been increased or maintained.

Some trainers make the mistake of assuming that behavior has been increased or maintained when in fact it has not.

Just because we have given a dog some praise, a scratch behind the ear, or even a yummy treat, it doesn't mean that the preceding behavior has been reinforced. Only when we can actually observe that a behavior has been increased or maintained can we say that it has been reinforced.

Aidan Bindoff is Editor of, a free ezine for people training their own dogs. Each edition has easy to use training advice based on positive reinforcement methods. Subscribers have access to a large archive of back-issues they can consult for just about any behavior or behavior problem.

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