Positive reinforcement key to dogs and domestic bliss

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am


Many people are starting the year with a new addition to the family: a dog or puppy. And, as these furry four-legged companions bring joy to the household, they require effort and training to be your perfect pet. Dog trainers Rosemarie Tang (www.petbehaviourhk.-com/follow-up.html) and Welshman Mark Peters (www.wishyouwereherehk.com) share their top canine tips.

One of the most important things to remember in teaching your dog, says animal trainer and behaviour counsellor Tang, is to stop hurtful training and use positive methods. 'There's never an excuse to hurt a dog when you train a dog, force isn't necessary,' Tang says. 'We must stop dominance-based and punitive training methods. There's no science there and dogs don't learn anything except to fear us.'

Rosemarie Tang's Dog Training Tips

Tip 1: Work with dogs' natural drives and instincts, not against them

Understanding canine behaviour is the key to becoming a better trainer for your dog. Motivate dogs using treats or toys, or use clicker training. Jumping up and biting are natural dog instincts, so you need to know where the dog is coming from. Since it is instinctive, you can't work against it, if you knee them or push them, any contact will be reinforcing to the dog.

Tip 2: Nothing for free - train good dog manners

Dog owners need to be good parents to their dogs. It's about proactively controlling access to resources so your dog has to look to you for guidance. You can be a good parent for your dog and still have a gentle, rewarding, nurturing relationship with him. Get into the habit of asking your dog to do at least one command, such as 'sit', before you do something for him. This promotes the 'nothing for free' rule.

Think of a 'sit' as your dog saying, 'please' before putting down his meal or giving him a treat; opening the front door before a walk; patting your dog when it wants attention; letting it off the leash before a run; and greeting visitors.

Tip 3: Expose puppies to positive socialisation

Try to provide 100 positive exposures in the first 100 days of a puppy's life. A critical period of a dog's life is from three to 16 weeks. Many eight-week-old puppies go into homes unsocialised, leaving all the socialisation up to the new owners.

Without any socialisation, dogs may never be able to reach their potential, and they may show signs of hyperactivity, excessive fearfulness, aggression, separation anxiety and general disobedience. Positive experiences can include exposing your puppy to all kinds of people, and exposing your puppy to different (healthy and friendly) dogs and animals.

The critical period is also a time to teach your dog how to be non-possessive or not to guard against resources, such as food, bones, toys and its bed. Owners can train their dog not to bite and willingly give up their resources.

Tip 4: Recognise when your dog is good

This is the single most frequently ignored aspect of therapy for clients whose pets have behavioural problems. When pets are not causing trouble, almost no one tells them how good they are. People really miss out, if they are focusing on the bad things. If nobody tells them when they are good, how can they know the appropriate behaviour?

Mark Peters' Training Tips

Tip 1: Exercise

Dogs need exercise and playtime. They need to burn energy and be stimulated. They are more likely to listen to you if they are calmer.

Tip 2: Name recognition

If your dog doesn't respond to its name you can't ask it to do anything. You need to teach your dog to make eye contact with you when you call its name. First, try distracting your dog, then call its name. When it looks at you and makes eye contact, immediately praise it. Don't be scared to use treats, it is important for you to emphasise positive reinforcement.

Tip 3: Teach leadership and build confidence

By encouraging and rewarding good behaviour you can teach leadership and build confidence with your dog. Don't focus on bad behaviour. And remember if your dog does something wrong and you correct it, you must praise the good behaviour that follows.

Tip 4: Ignore discouraged behaviour

If your dog jumps up, you can inadvertently encourage this behaviour by telling it off. When your dog's front feet are off the floor you must turn away, take eye contact away from them, keep turning until their feet are back on the floor and then immediately turn back to them and praise with eye contact and a happy voice. If they jump up with excitement be ready to turn away quickly. Repeat as needed.