An Introduction To Pet Training With Positive Reinforcement

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There are many reasons to begin a training regime with your pet. You may want to stop an animal’s bad behavior such as clawing or chewing the furniture. You may want to keep him under control in social situations. Or you may want to teach him to perform tricks on command. In any case, the animal will benefit both from the mental exercise required and from the time and attention you give him. The most satisfying form of pet training uses positive reinforcement.

Training with positive reinforcement involves rewarding pets when they perform the right action, rather than punishing them for doing something wrong. Rewards are typically in the form of small food treats combined with praise. Once animals learn to associate certain actions with positive consequences, they become eager to repeat them.

You’ve probably already trained your pet through positive reinforcement without realizing it. If a dog or cat scratches at the door and you open it, they learn to associate the behavior of scratching with the reward of going outside. You reinforce the behavior every time you let them out when they scratch.

Before beginning a formal training session, you will need to determine the precise action you want your pet to perform and think of a command or cue word which will initiate the action. Single syllable cue words such as ‘come’ or ‘stay’ are easiest for the animal to recognize and for you to remember.

When your pet performs the desired action in response to the command, immediately reward him with verbal praise, swiftly followed by a treat. Consistency and speed are vitally important. If you are trying to teach a dog to respond to the word ‘sit’, and you wait until he is standing again before rewarding him, he won’t know which action to associate with the positive response.

To teach an animal to get off the bed or sofa, chose a simple command like ‘off’. When you find your pet sitting on the furniture, get a food treat and hide it in your hand. Stand over the animal, loudly and clearly say ‘off’ and gently push her to the floor. Immediately praise her and hold the treat to her mouth. Do this every time you catch her sitting where she’s not allowed. Eventually, she will jump off the furniture in response to your command, without the accompanying push.

Once an animal has learned to perform the required action in response to the cue word, gradually stop giving the treat reward, but continue to let her know you are pleased. Dogs respond well to verbal praise and physical affection such as a scratch on the ear. After training, this is usually all the reward they require. Some cats and birds also crave their owner’s affection and can be taught to perform on command without a food reward.

Pet training requires patience on the part of both the teacher and the pupil. There will be good days and bad days. Do not continue with a training session if your pet seems tired or distracted. Never resort to scolding or punishment for bad performance. This will cause your animal to associate the cue word with negative consequences. Training should be an enjoyable experience that both you and your pet will be keen to repeat.

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Categories: Pets