Training without bribes or force – is it possible?

Is there training for a dog that doesn’t require you to carry treats, toys, leash, prong collar or e-collar remotes for the rest of your dog’s life?

How do we get our dog to do what we want, when we want without external reinforcers or fear?

First you have to be able to communicate with your dog what you want. This means that you need to teach him what you expect of him when you use certain English words or specific body movements. This is when you will greatly benefit from the use of training tools. Training tools range from harnesses to e-collars, short leads to long leads, play to reduced social interaction, dog kibble to McDonald’s cheeseburgers and everything in between. We all know that food is typically the best motivator for getting our dogs to do things that we want them to. We must first find out what our dog finds the most rewarding: a certain type of food or a special toy… We can use these things to lure behaviors and reward behaviors. Through this process our dog learns that when we say sit we expect him to sit.

Once a dog understands what we want we can quickly phase out the tools. This means you can start to give the treat (or other reinforcer) to the dog only intermittently, say after doing two behaviors that we want, then every three behaviors, back to every two times and so on. What really works great is mixing this up so we make it like a gambling experience. If we put in a jackpot every now and then (a jackpot needs to be something so wonderful the dog will never forget that he got it for doing what you asked) the dog will always wonder if he’ll get that jackpot for doing what you ask. Incorporating in what has now been termed ‘life rewards’ also makes this transition easier.

Life rewards are rewards that you don’t have to carry in your pocket. These are things that your dog naturally finds rewarding in life, like sniffing. Here is one example: when your dog walks nicely on a leash you get to go forward (when the dog doesn’t walk nice he has to walk in the opposite direction until he is in the right spot and then he can go forward again). Here is another example: when your dog sees something that he is afraid of and does what you ask (i.e. gives eye contact and doesn’t immediately start reacting badly) you then take your dog out of the situation that scares him. You can also train with a friend and see if your dog will do what you ask when you aren’t looking at your dog(if no one is available to help maybe you could use a mirror).

In short, we should all remember that whenever we are with our dog we are training. Or maybe that we should always be ‘real’ with our dogs and training is really just interacting with our dogs and communicating. 🙂

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