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It’s important to understand how dogs learn, so we can take advantage of that when we are training them. One important fact you need to keep in mind when trying to teach your dog anything is this: there has to be something in it for him. Dogs are simple creatures – if they find something rewarding and enjoyable, they’ll do it again.
Food is motivating for most dogs. Rewarding with food is always positive and something understood by even the youngest puppy. Keep your treat size small, and train your dog when he is hungry. He’ll be even more keen to earn a reward when he has an empty tummy!
Some dogs are less motivated by food, and instead love a game of ball, or tug o’ war as a reward for doing the right thing. Drug sniffer dogs are a classic example of this; they search for contraband just for the opportunity to play when they succeed.
Repetition is important for your dog to be able to make an association between what he did and the reward. Have patience and repeat your training exercise several times. 15-20 minute sessions are enough for most dogs; beyond that you start to lose their attention. Make sure you end any learning session on a strong positive note so he is keen to start training again next time.
Negative punishment of any type during training never yields good results. It only shows the dog that there is nothing pleasant in it for him, and it will damage your relationship with him. Dogs can become fearful in abusive situations and fear may cause him to try to protect himself by showing aggression. He may also shut down and withdraw, and he’ll be even less likely to learn. Don’t risk your dog’s well being by punishing him when he doesn’t learn quickly, he doesn’t deserve it and it may in fact be your fault, if you’re not teaching him correctly.
In Summary – There are many examples of dogs learning effectively with positive methods such as food and reward. These methods also result in a close bond between a dog and his owner, and a happy attitude to training.
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