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Positive Reinforcement – The Best Method for Training Your Rescue Pup

:Jaquelin Yang, for TAPACT

The amount of content online about dog training is endless! It can be overwhelming trying to figure out which methods are right for you and your pup. In this article, we’ll be focusing on one strategy that has gained popularity in recent years for its effectiveness: positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement focuses on using rewards to teach your dog desired behaviors. Instead of punishing your pets, especially when they may not understand what they’re doing wrong, reward them when they get it right. This method is especially beneficial for rescue pups who may still be recovering from abuse or trauma. By rewarding good behavior, you will build trust and create a bond. 

Ready to get started? Take a look at these steps! 

  1. Find the reward(s)! 

Many specialty training treats are available — they are usually small (to prevent unhealthy weight gain) and easy to carry. You can also use small pieces of foods that your pet typically enjoys, but rewards don’t have to be limited to food. Try offering praise or toys as well! 

You may find that certain rewards work better than others for different situations. For example, when training dogs to walk loosely on a leash, you might need a higher-value treat like a favorite snack in order to draw their attention away from all the distractions. 

  1. Watch some videos! 

Training does not have to be expensive. Some of our favorite trainers have tons of free videos and articles available online. The videos are often focused on one target behavior at a time, which makes the process easy to follow. You’ll learn how to use gradual steps to teach your dog all kinds of things. Dog training is really a two-way street — you’re also training yourself to communicate with your pup. We’d recommend checking out: 

  1. Practice the timing.

Timing is crucial to your success with positive reinforcement. A clicker is helpful but not required — you can also signal your dog with a keyword like “yes.” The purpose of the clicker or keyword is to help your dog start to associate correct behaviors (and rewards) with that sound. The clicker and reward must be given immediately after the dog has completed the training behavior. This helps strengthen that connection between action and reward. 

  1. Be consistent.

Every guide on positive reinforcement emphasizes the importance of consistency. As much as your pets love you, it’s very difficult for them to understand multiple different words and long sentences. Instructions should be short and simple. Make sure everyone in your family is on the same page about what behaviors to reward and how to reward them. For example, when teaching your pups to remain seated in one place, it would be confusing for them if one family member says “stay” while another asks them to “wait.” 

  1. Be patient.

Rescue pups come from all different backgrounds. Some may have never known what it’s like to live inside a home, while others come from abusive households. Be patient and kind as your pet learns to trust you and your family. 

During the training process, it’s important to take it step by step. In order to reach the goal, you may have to teach behaviors in many small parts. For example, if you’re teaching your dog to stay, initially you should give a reward as soon as he or she has stayed in place for 2 seconds. Then, after your dog has demonstrated that he or she can stay for 2 seconds easily, you can reward after staying in place for 4 seconds, increasing the length of time gradually. 

Positive reinforcement training does not mean your dog will only follow learned behaviors when there are treats around. When first training your dog, the reward might be visible in your hand. Once your pup has learned the behavior, you can keep the treat out of sight. This teaches your pet to listen even when there are no treats in sight. Eventually, you can also switch up how often they are rewarded — going from a reward 100% of the time to 75% of the time, 50% of the time and so on. It’s important to note that this only pertains to food; you should always praise your dog each and every time they complete the desired behavior. Your love and affection means a lot to your pet, and this motivates them to do their best. 

Positive reinforcement training is popular for a reason. It makes training fun for both you and your pup. Try it out and let us know what you think! 

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