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Positive Reinforcement in dog training Part 2:

By Thomas Magee
11.29.22
Positive Reinforcement

𝙋𝙤𝙨𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙞𝙣𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙘𝙚𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 – 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙨𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙙

The other day we delved into some basic aspects of positive reinforcement in dog training and how to use schedules of reinforcement to change your dog’s behaviour.

Here were the requests in the comments – What you wanted some help with

Now, as you will know if you’ve been following us for a little while we use a balanced approach to training and positive reinforcement is just one small part of our approach.

It has its limitations in terms of getting you real results and so, with the above list, the I’m going to focus on training/increasing your recall skills in this article.

Before I get on that though, let me explain why.

Positive reinforcement in dog training is great for teaching things, it isn’t good for unteaching things.

What I mean is, it can be used to teach your dogs to do things.

Things like sit, lie down, stay, recall, go to bed etc.

It’s not good for teaching dogs not to do things such as barking, chasing shadows, jumping up and mouthing.

What you can use it for though is teaching incompatible behaviors. Behaviours that would allow you to give your dog something else to do instead.

For example, a dog cannot be jumping up if it is instead sitting or a dog can’t be barking at the door if it has been asked to go to it’s bed.

In most cases, if you have been trying to stop these behaviours for a while, you need a little help and that’s what we are here for. Send us a message and we’ll guide you to a quick solution.

In terms of recall, lets have a look at how you can train a better recall using positive reinforcement (NOTE: The imfor shared here will train a beeter recall, it will not stop your dog wanting to do more exciting things instead of recalling. For that, you need to know how to insist your dog recalls)

Ok, so here it is, positive recall training 101

Start small: The first key to positive reinforcement is to keep your dog winning. You don’t want to challenge your dog so much that it can’t get it right. We have to increase the criteria (in this case coming when called) very slowly to ensure your dog is learning what we want all the time whilst getting success.

We talked on Friday about schedules of reinforcement and that’s how we will start teaching the recall. All you need to do is take your dog somewhere quiet, say his or her name and reward them as soon as they pay attention. You need to reward them everytime they pay attention once you say their name.

Increase the criteria: Once your dog is reliably responding,over very short distances each and every time you call it’s time to increase the criteria. In the case of recall, usually I would say to increase the distance slightly.
It is very important that you only increase one criteria at a time. With recall, the criteria is usually going to be distance or distraction. You will not get success if you increase them both at the same time.

Go variable: Variable reinforcement is when we reward your dog on a variable schedule. This means that your dog receives rewards for certain correctly performed responses and not others. By going variable, you will see that your dog starts to perform with more gusto.
When they know that they will receive a reward every time, it can get pretty boring pretty quickly. However, when they don’t know when it will arrive and aren’t sure what or how much they will get, it becomes more exciting.

I cannot stress how important it is to have many repetitions of continuous reinforcement under your belt before you move on to variable reinforcement. Your dog really needs to understand the exercise before you go variable.

Increase the criteria again; Once your dog is performing consistently over a particular distance it’s time to make things a bit more challenging. This time you might want to add in some distractions. Don’t push too much here, we need you and the dog to keep on winning.

Also, each time you increase the criteria, you should relax the other one. So, if you’ve taught your dog to recall reliably over 50 Meters with little distraction, when you add distractions, you should reduce the distance considerably until the distractions are proving no issue and then slowly begin to increase the distance again.

If you’re reading this thinking it sounds like a lot of work and it might be hard for you to do this in the real World then you are absolutely correct and it’s the exact reason that we don’t solely use positive reinforcement in our training. It has its limitations. It’s my belief that all dogs need to know that responding to recall is non negotiable. It’s a potential life saver. Using a balanced approach also gets faster results which allow you to get out and enjoy your dog faster in the park, on the beach and in the woods etc.

Just before I go though, let me explain why most of you are struggling with recall.

Because you aren’t practicing it enough and then, when you do, it fails.

You’ve all heard the saying that practice makes perfect right? Well, it’s true!

Most owners when out on a walk only call their dog when they need it or at the end of a walk. That typically means that your dog will get two or three practices of the recall on a whole walk.

You can make a huge impact on your recall success by actually practicing it in real situations. There is no point in training the recall in a tennis court if you need it in the woods.

When I’m training one of my dogs we do literally hundreds of repetitions every day.

We get what we focus on, from today, when you go out with your dog, I want you to give your recall command 200 times on every walks and reward your dog for every response. Do it when your dog is by your side, 10m away, heading off to that three that looks interesting, when he/she is already heading back to you of their own accord, at the start of the walk, in the middle of the walk, at the end of the walk. Practice practice practice.

The more often your dog gets a reward for recalling, the more often he or she is likely to recall.

When you are ready to really make it reliable, let us know and we’ll help you put in the finishing touches.

Training your dog to come back is just one part of the puzzle. Almost everybody with recall issues actually has a ‘going off in the first place problem’ and that ladies and gentleman, is where the real answer are!

If your dog doesn’t go to distractions, you don’t have to call him or her back from them!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments below and don’t forget to give it a like and share.

At WKD, we are committed to improving the lives of dogs and owners around the World and we do it by talking straight and being honest. Positive reinforcement alone is not the answer for most dogs. If you are reading this post it’s because your dog is more interested in other things than the piece of ham you are offering it and that needs a slightly different approach.

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