Best Way to Train Your Dog with Praise and Correction

Responding to your dog’s behavior with appropriate praise and correction teaches him two indispensable lessons: how to win your approval and, just as important, how to avoid your disap­proval. As his caretaker, it is not only your right but your obligation to positively reinforce behaviors that are safe or even laudable and negatively reinforce those that are annoying or even dangerous.

You may wonder, because knowing how we feel is one of the things dogs do best, why do we need to remind them of what they already know? Surely every dog knows when his owner is pleased and when he is annoyed or even angry. Reminding your dog anyway does several things. It reinforces his con­cept of what is appropri­ate behavior and what isn’t. It is also how we teach our dog’s skills and vocabulary. Of course, without reinforcement your dog will still learn. But he may not learn the things you want him to.

Train Dog Praise Best Way to Train Your Dog with Praise and Correction

Even learned behaviors may fade or become sloppy without the reinforcement of occasional praise and correction. If you teach your dog to come promptly when you call him, and when he does you never praise him for doing so, he may stop obeying you. He may slow down his response. He may wait for a second, third or fourth command. He may act as if he were deaf and not respond at all. If you teach him not to pick up food in the street, then never remind him of this taboo, a powerful enticement might just inspire him to forget he’s not supposed to give in to temptation.

Suppose your dog is doing just what he feels like doing—play­ing nicely with a buddy, being gentle with a child, exploring some­place new in an appropriate, civilized manner—and what he is doing already gives him pleasure. Who needs you to mouth “Good dog”? He does.

Suppose he is doing the very work he is genetically driven to do, a task that gives him utter satisfaction—pointing birds, herding sheep, pulling a cart, dispatching a rodent. Who needs you to tell him “Good boy”? He does.

Praise and correction, with a greater emphasis on praise, are an important part of the conversation between a person and a dog, part of the cement of the relationship, part of the recognition that even when the work is its own reward, appropriate reinforcement is what makes two individuals become a working partnership. It is precisely by monitoring your dog’s behavior, by commenting on it, as it were, that you keep yourself in your dog’s consciousness, and by doing so you nurture not only good behavior on his part but the relationship itself.

No matter if it’s work or play, whether your dog is just having fun, God bless him, or if what he’s doing is as genetically driven as is herding sheep for the Border Collie, if you quietly insert yourself into the activity, something that otherwise would have little or nothing to do with you, you end up strengthening your ability to work with your dog.

Do not be a pest. Don’t badger or talk constantly. Merely intro­duce yourself into your dog’s activities in a gentle, spare way so that your relationship with him becomes part of what he does, even when what he does is genetically driven and gives him satisfaction. Think about it this way: If you are not included in what your dog likes to do, all that’s left for you is to be included in the things he doesn’t like so well, the things that are difficult for him, annoying or painful.

Train Dog Praise 1 Best Way to Train Your Dog with Praise and Correction

In that case, he might like you involved in what he does about as much as the dog who gets to ride in the family car only when he needs to go to the veterinarian likes to ride in the car.

In order to live and work well with you, your dog must learn that pleasing you is Job One. Coming from a person who feels her citi­zenship will be revoked if every day of her dog’s life is not a marvelous adventure, this does not seem unreasonable. After all, the fact that what your dog is doing pleases you does not in any way mean it’s not also pleasing the hell out of him.

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