Archive for August, 2011

If, like me you have a day job in the corporate world, the title question will probably be familiar to you. It’s bandied about willy-nilly in relation to objective setting, programme evaluation and performance reviews.   But unlike some other management speak, this one is actually a big favourite of mine. Why? Because it’s so darn useful – especially when it comes to dog training.


I’m a massive fan of positive reinforcement, simply because when I first got Little Bear I was ignorant to the point that I listened to a trainer who told me to lead correct him (i.e. pull on his collar with the lead) when he mis-behaved. Punishment didn’t work for us, it made things 10 times worse, plus I’m a useless punisher (thank heavens) so when I found a more enlightened way to help my dog I grabbed it with both hands.

Learning how to positively reinforce your dogs’ behaviour is pretty easy, but the very first step is deciding what that behaviour is going to look like.  Now this might sound so simplistic as to be insulting, but looking back, I had no idea what good looked like because I was so pre-occupied with trying to avoid the bad stuff.

Am I being good now? 

Now when we walk I’m conscious to look out for the good. So if LB is trotting nicely by my side I tell him what a great walk he’s doing. If we see a jogger these days he rarely woofs, so I always praise him for being calm.  Just because he’s learned not to bark at them is no reason as far as I’m concerned to stop praising him for keeping up the great work.

By understanding what the ultimate goal looks like, it’s also so much easier to break it down into manageable chunks.  So for us, walking around the block without him barking at another dog is one of our ultimate ‘goods’.  But that doesn’t mean to say that until he can do that he won’t be rewarded – he’d never learn anything that way.

So, the first ‘good’ was not reacting 60ft away from another dog walking away from him. Another was giving me eye contact when I asked for it, a third was giving me eye contact when there was a dog 60ft away etc etc. By understanding what the ultimate good looks like, plus the increments that will get us there, I’m able to set us both up for success. The best bit of course is that I also get to focus on every opportunity to praise and reward every step he takes in the right direction.

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