One of the things that I love most about positive reinforcement training is that we get to focus on finding and reinforcing behaviors we like - in our formal training when we reinforce a sit or a heel or a high five - but also in our everyday life with our dogs. It’s about catching the moments when they’re doing what we want, and instead of dismissing it as an expectation, we reinforce it. It’s saying "thank you" and showing appreciation for the behaviors we didn’t ask for, just as we would say thank you to our partner for taking out the garbage or praising a child for clearing the table.
What behaviors do you choose to reinforce with affection, a piece of dried liver, a game of tug? Well it depends on the dog! For my young puppy, keeping all her paws on the floor and not trying to jump on the counter gets reinforced. For my older girl, choosing to go to her bed or crate to lie down when the puppy is running around (instead of barking and trying to herd the puppy into a corner) gets reinforced. They never quite know when they’re going to get a reinforcer - there’s cookies of some kind stashed throughout the house, sometimes I wear my treat pouch, there’s toys around for a game of fetch or tug, and I’m always able to give affection and praise. For behaviors that they know well, there's life reinforcers - having the door opened to go outside after sitting politely or being able to prance outside for a walk after standing quietly to get a harness and leash on.
"I look for the smallest positive behaviors. Because they’re there."
On days when I wake up exhausted and nothing seems to be going right, on days when the dogs can’t seem to get along and everyone seems to be constantly ending up underfoot, on nights when I’m tired and the last thing I feel capable of is summoning the patience to train, I look for the smallest positive behaviors. Because they’re there. There’s always something. And once I reward one thing, it starts off a chain reaction of the dogs deliberately offering other behaviors they think I’ll reinforce and with that it becomes easier and easier to find the behaviors I want to see. And it always seems to result in me being calmer and happier, not least because my dogs are happy too! Oh and guess what? I just did the training I didn't feel up to doing, and it was easy and fun for everyone.
So find the smallest positive moments to reward. On the days when you want to train, but especially on the days when everything is going wrong and you don’t have the time or the energy for a formal training session.
Need help with finding the positive moments? Contact Jenn for more information on classes or private coaching.