Methods without the madness: A brief overview of the science of positive dog training

For those of you wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to positive dog training, or those of you wondering how on earth it could be this simple, here is a rundown of the learning theory that helps your puppy or dog figure out what is expected of him in this human world.

Positive reinforcement is one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning.  Operant conditioning explains how behavior changes based on reinforcement or punishment that happens immediately after the behavior.  Positive reinforcement is technically the addition of something positive after the behavior.  This is done with the intention of causing the dog to repeat the behavior.  Operant conditioning follows the formula: IF you “sit”, THEN you get chicken.  If a dog sits, and we give him a treat immediately afterward, the treat reinforces of the behavior of sitting.  Since it is something we added to the behavior (as opposed to taking away), it is referred to as positive.  Another example of positive reinforcement could be if a dog does “watch” on cue and is then immediately allowed to sniff his favorite shrub.  The shrub is added to reinforce the behavior of turning and looking to the human. [Read more…]

Rainy day dog training games using free shaping and positive reinforcement

As the San Diego winter rolls in with rain and chilly weather, some dogs will be short-changed on long walks and trips to the dog park on bad weather days.  Free shaping with your dog can be a great way to burn off some of your dog’s mental energy, especially on rainy days you spend inside together.  Free shaping is an exercise that empowers your dog by teaching him to think, make decisions, and focus on a task.  It involves teaching your dog tricks by capturing behaviors he performs as he moves incrementally toward your ultimate goal for the trick.

This game is best played with a clicker (small box that makes a “click” sound to mark correct behaviors).  Visit for more information on clicker training.  If your dog is not clicker trained yet, you can still play this game.  If you have a clicker, spend a day clicking the clicker and following it with a treat so your dog learns to associate the click sound with receiving a piece of food.  The click will then mean, “you have done the correct behavior, and you will soon receive a food reward.”  If you do not have a clicker, you can still play the game by using a word such as “GOOD!” or “YES!” to mark correct behaviors, and follow that word with a treat.  In either case, you will want to be very specific with your timing by clicking your clicker or saying your word right at the moment your dog performs the behavior.  The treat always follows this mark. [Read more…]