Clicker Training and Reinforcement: How Dogs Learn
Dogs learn by reinforcement. They learn good things and they also learn bad things! A classic example of reinforcement is giving the dog a treat when they sit. An example of self-reinforcement is is the dog getting into the trash can and enjoy some tasty scraps. Self-reinforcement happens a lot!
The clicker is a tool that we use to communicate to the dog, "Yes, you got it right! Here is your treat!" When the dog follows our lure into an obedience position we then click and treat. That is how dogs learn!
At Appalachian Dog Training we teach dogs obedience commands with a clicker and treats. We start by teaching them to follow a lure (which is a food treat). We then lure them into the positions we are training; place, sit, down, come and heel. We do not pull or push the dogs where we want them to go, but rather we rely on motivating them to move where we want them to go and by rewarding them with their favorite treats, toys or just plain petting and affection.
The elements of learning are acquisition, correction, generalization and maintenance. Our trainers' focus is primarily on the first three levels. We coach owners to implement their personalized maintenance routine to ensure their dog's training and behaviors are harmonious with their family dynamics post graduation.
Setting rules and boundaries can be difficult. Our Trainers help to demonstrate the differences between calm-relaxed vs excitement behaviors and how your dog's stress levels correlate. Our number one goal, with every dog, is to promote and reinforce calm, relaxed behavior because that is when your dog feels their best by giving reinforcement, affection and attention at the right times.
What promotes calm, relaxed behavior? Rules, boundaries and exercise. We understand and maintain our cultural beliefs and understand and follow the laws. But why do we have penance, legal fines, and law enforcement officers? Because even though we know the rules, we push boundaries to get what we want. Dogs do not differ in that regard. Even though we have taught our dog rules, we still need to tell them "no" when they choose to push our boundaries to satisfy what they want. Rules are healthy life-skill building blocks for ourselves and our beloved pets.
Reinforcing rules and boundaries is not a horrible thing; in fact it is quite the opposite. When your dog has calm guidance and clear leadership, they can finally achieve a calm relaxed state, feeling their absolute best!
And that is precisely our goal; to honor the dog's natural spirit and bring them to a state of well being and contentedness. This often makes us prioritize our dog's long term needs over our own short term desires, but that is how we show our love for them, right?
Q: Do you train with “Positive Reinforcement?”
A: Absolutely! Using positive reinforcement means rewarding the dogs behavior with anything the dog finds rewarding to him. This is very often food, toys, petting and play as you will find in our Private Training. It is our job to motivate students and teach them to love learning. We do not push or pull your dog into obedience positions, we use food to lure them into the positions we are teaching and click & treat!
Q: Will my dog only work for food after graduation?
A: No, with the exception of young puppies enrolled in Puppy Head Start. Adults will perform the obedience commands without the presence of treats. During the dogs training in Board & Train and your graduation training, you will be using treats to “teach” your dog the obedience positions. When the dog becomes proficient we reduce the food treats so that they are not needed for your dog to be willing to perform the commands. We never go to zero food, however the treat will not need to be waived in front of your dog’s nose to get him or her to perform.
Q: Do you train with “Negative Reinforcement?”
A: Negative reinforcement in its scientific term means to “take away the pleasant thing”. An example would be not giving the dog the treat if he doesn’t sit. We utilize all 4 quadrants of learning in training, it is scientifically impossible to train any animal with positive reinforcement only. Our focus is teaching the dog what we want them to do and focusing on positive behaviors. We do give feedback to the dog when we do not want them to engage in a behavior so they can learn what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not.
Q: Is using a prong collar going to "fix" problem behavior?
A: No harness, head halter, collar, or special leash will teach any dog not to pull on the leash. Harnesses and head halters teach the dog to walk at an angle, helping some to pull slightly less, while damaging their neck and spine. We are equally concerned about your safety and your dogs safety. A prong collar is an effective training tool when used properly. The collar itself will not train your dog; it is the proper fit, function, use and introduction of the prong collar that can provide the means of communicating, achieving reliability, and ensuring safety for both the dog and the owner. A dog that pulls you down or out in front of traffic is very dangerous and we want to ensure you can enjoy safe, tree free walks when you train your dog. We use a prong collar for the correction stage of learning after your dog has learned the commands well and knows how to perform them.
Q: Do you use e-collars, electric collars, or electronic collars?
A: In our Off Leash programs and our Behavior Training programs we use a high quality Dogtra brand e-collar to communicate with the dog. We use the stimulation of the e collar with the dog's known commands to give them direction and tell them what to do.
The e-collar is used to communicate known commands with stimulation. We are not using the e-collar to punish a dog. We are using it in a systematic training process to communicate with the dog with low-level static (not electric) stimulation. As with all training tools, they alone will not help or “fix” a dog’s behavior. It is the proper implementation of such a training tool; fit, function, use and introduction. We do not use e-collars on puppies under 6 months age.
With our Off Leash training we are not saying to the dog "no, don't do this, don't do that", but rather we are giving the dog positive direction or commands telling them what we want them to do. This allows the dog to open up and act and move freely. It can best be related to modern parenting of offering kids choices of what they can do/choose rather than the old way of telling them no.
Q: What certifications for dog training do you have?
A: At Appalachian Dog Training LLC, we take pride in the years of education and experience committed to the training and care of all dogs. Our Head Trainer has successfully completed a hands-on vocational school Masters Program at Highland Canine International School for Dog Trainers, their apprenticeship program, and holds Masters degree in Canine Life Sciences from Bergin University of Canine Studies, in addition to working in dog boarding facilities and animal shelters for over 20 years.
Appalachian Dog Training Trainers have completed our comprehensive Apprenticeship program starting with Kennel Technician, PuppY Head Start, and On Leash training. This Apprenticeship program includes advanced canine communication, grooming, husbandry, behavior, learning, breed specialties, and more.