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Positive Policies in Dog Training

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There are a few simple rules to using positive methods, and I know they may sound too simplistic to really be effective. When you start, the routine might seem insurmountable. Once you get the hang of positive training, it all becomes more natural and second nature.

Reinforcing What You Like

You'd be surprised how many people don't know what they want in terms of their dog's behavior. If you don't know what you want, then you won't recognize it when you get it! “I just want a good dog” doesn't count. You may want a dog that doesn't pull on the leash or jump on strangers or try to set her own place at the dinner table. Learn to be more specific.

Make a list of the behaviors you observe in your dog now, along with what you'd rather see instead. Here's an example:

Existing BehaviorWhat You Want Instead
Jumping on strangersSitting politely for petting
Pulling on the leashWalking calmly by my side
Barking at the doorbellQuiet when doorbell rings
Bucking bronco for groomingStanding still for grooming
Growling at strangersWatching strangers calmly
Canine Caveats

When you're redirecting the dog to a better behavior, be careful. You don't want to accidentally reinforce the dog for doing the “bad” behavior. For instance, you're busy and can't pay attention to your dog, so he then nips you or bothers you in inappropriate ways. You then redirect to a toy. What has your dog learned? “Bother Mom and Dad and they will play with me.”

This is how you should properly handle redirection: Dog is bothering you? Ask for an incompatible behavior—Sits or Downs usually work well for most situations. Count to five while the dog remains in position. Then redirect the dog. This way, the dog associates “sit calmly and I get attention,” rather than “be annoying and I get attention.”

Once you've identified what you want, you'll be surprised at how often you actually do get these behaviors—even without training. No dog can be “bad” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Really. Not even yours. And now you can start reinforcing the “good” behaviors because you know what to look for.

For instance, your dog is rearranging the furniture in nightly “puppy zoomies,” where she runs around and around, completely out of control, sliding into furniture and knocking over lamps. Why not reinforce her when she's lying down being quiet? Behavior that is positively rewarded will be repeated. Reward her for lying down, and ignore puppy zoomies. As long as she's getting proper exercise, she'll lie down more often as a result.

Many of the annoying behaviors your dog has can be easily changed and incorporated into your training in many ways. You could turn an annoying behavior into an outlet for some exercise, or a reinforcer for good behavior.

For instance, when Beau was a puppy he used to steal my shoes and eat them. Rather than do the sensible thing and put my shoes away, I decided to teach him to retrieve them. As he paraded past me with a “neener, neener, neener” look on his face, I clicked and praised him. He dropped the shoe in surprise. I gave him a few treats and encouraged him to bring me the shoe. After repeating this a few times, he actually stopped stealing my shoes and brought me toys instead.

Even if your dog ends up always stealing things and bringing them to you for a treat, it's better than taking those same objects, eating them, and ending up in the emergency vet's office for surgery.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training é 2005 by Pamela Dennison. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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