Dogs thrive on consistency. And as they get older the need for consistency becomes even greater. Dogs want to know the rules, what’s allowed and what’s not. Inconsistency is very confusing to them. Remember, even when you’re not training your dog you often are. In your relations with your dog it wants you to be consistent. This is most important when giving rewards or meting out verbal discipline. Rewards are obviously positive but when using discipline never leave your dog on a negative note. Even after a reprimand, let yourself cool down then do something positive. Respect and friendship during these critical weeks are the keys to a future happy relationship.
Select Rewards That Are Easy To Carry
A reward is anything your dog likes. Some rewards or “reinforcers”, for example tasty food treats, are more powerful that others, such as kind words. Food, toys, access to people a dog enjoys being with, petting and stroking, your tone of voice, certain words you use, your facial expressions, access to the outdoors, are of these are day to day re-enforcers of your dog’s behaviour. There’s another powerful behaviour re-enforcer that’s easy to forget about and that’s escaping from something unpleasant. If for example, your dog is frightened by seeing someone on a skateboard in the park and runs away, running away makes it feel better. It re-enforces running away behaviour. When training your dog, use powerful positive re-enforcers, especially food and toys and couple them with less powerful re-enforcers such as your touch and voice and eventually voice alone which you’ll graduate to once a behaviour is learned and entrenched. Be on the lookout for negative re-enforcers. All of us unwittingly re-enforce something in our dog’s behaviour we later come to regret. Behaviours aren’t forged in steel. Behaviours can be changed but it’s always easier to create a behaviour than it is to eliminate a formed one, then form a new one in its place.
With many pups just a piece of kibble is a sufficient reward. For more particular ones or for more difficult training, use liver treats. We have a tasty selection at the clinic. Keep food rewards with you whenever you go anywhere with your pup. Pet-Tabs are excellent. They smell sufficiently disgusting for dogs to love them while not too disgusting to keep in your pocket or handbag.
Toys are almost as powerful rewards as food, especially chewable or squeaky toys. Use toys as rewards for pups that are not piggy by nature. As a breed, German shepherds respond well to toys as rewards. Be careful with what you do with toys however. Remember that they belong to you. They are yours, not your pup’s and are only given as rewards. An ideal toy is one small enough for you to hide in your pocket, but big enough not to cause a danger from choking. Sometimes you have to build up interest if you want to use a toy during training. If this is the case, do silly things with it. Produce it from your pocket, sniff it and put it back. Talk to it. Wave it at your pup then put it on a shelf. Your aim is to trigger your pup’s interest and desire to possess it.
A soothing lick from mother was comforting to your pup. So too is a gentle stroke on its body from you. Use contact comfort as an important reward when your pup responds well. Associate touch with food rewards and words of praise. It’s always good to start training a pup to be touched while it’s eating. Later, training your dog to let you take its food away while it eats reduces the risks of it becoming possessive and guarding it from people or other animals.
At the same time you give a potent reward such as food, a toy or touch, give a verbal reward. Your pup will soon learn that just the words “Good girl.” or “Good boy” are satisfying on their own. In your relationship with your dog, start with a potent reward and graduate to using less powerful secondary rewards – just words alone. Be precise with the words you use when speaking to your dog. It understands black and white, not shades of grey. Think ‘yes’ or ‘no’, never ‘maybe’ when speaking or for that matter interacting in any way with your pup.
If your dog becomes too excited by food or a toy as a reward, ignore him or her and go away. Repeat what you were trying to do when it’s calmer using a less potent reward such as words alone. If it’s not interested in responding to any of your rewards, schedule activities just before feeding time, when it’s most alert.