When a dog owner is seeking training help or advice, they usually come prepared with a list of behaviors that need to stop.
They will say things like, “I just want him to stop pulling on the leash” or “I wish she’d stop jumping”. Through our conversation they will also express their desire to use positive reinforcement as the primary training technique. Which is great for me because it’s my favorite.
The thing we have to remember is that 1.) Positive reinforcement is a lifestyle not a training style. We talked about that in a previous blog. And 2.) Positive reinforcement, by definition, cannot stop behaviors, it can only increase behavior. So coming prepared with a list of behaviors that need to stop makes the training process and the understanding of the process more difficult.
In order to use positive reinforcement to its fullest benefit, making a list of behaviors you do want is more helpful and puts the human in a better frame of mind.
So, how do we make that shift? Instead of saying, “I wish she’d stop jumping,” we can say, “I’d like her to sit when greeting my grandmother.” Now that’s a statement and a goal I can help you with. Instead of, “I’d like him to stop pulling,” we can say, “I’d like the dog to walk beside me, at my left, with attention.”
One of our many jobs as a dog owner is to know what you do want and that all starts with an imagination or as adults like to call it “creative visualization.”
We do it all the time when preparing for a sports tournament or a lecture. We visualize how we want the talk to go or we imagine ourselves winning the tournament. This positive way of thinking helps the human reach the desired goal.
We have all heard or read some sort of life coach book or author claiming to help us change the way we think. Most spiritual leaders talk about changing the way we humans think about the world around us. One very popular spiritual leader, Joyce Meyer, says, “We’ve got to get rid of our stinkin’ thinkin.’” She describes this ‘stinkin thinkin’ as all the negative energy we surround ourselves with by focusing our mind on the problems we have instead of the solutions to those problems.
When we make the choice to use positive reinforcement as our main way of communicating to the dog, we have to put a clear mental image in our heads. We have to focus on what we want to see. This will help you have better timing when you reward because you will know what the picture is supposed to look like and reinforce the behaviors accordingly.
This takes practice and dedication, of course. Here are some suggestions to help you focus on the good stuff:
- Watch YouTube videos of dogs and their handlers performing a behavior you are working on. This will help you to have a clear image of the desired behavior so you know what areas to improve on and when to reward the dog.
Here are some we’ve created at Butt Sniffers Academy.
- Make a list of behaviors you do want: Sit politely for petting, come when called, sit at thresholds and street corners, walk at my side with a slack leash, ride quietly in the car, relax for nail trims, etc.
- Log small improvements and celebrate even the tiniest of milestones.
- Meditate before a training session, focusing on the potential success you will have.
- If a negative thought pops into your head, slow down, take a deep breath, remind yourself that you and your dog are working hard on these changes or remind yourself of the success you had during a previous training session.
- Take a break and revisit the game with a clear mind.
- Allow yourself to forget about mistakes and start every training session brand new.
- Reflect on possible mistakes you are making, forgive yourself and adjust those areas when necessary.
- If you are really having a hard time, seek help from a professional. (I know at least one.)
Have an imagination, practice, be creative and most of all, have fun!