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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Labrador Retriever: Positive Reinforcement

What do we actually imply when we say positive reinforcement? Well, reinforcement actually means making stronger. So when we talk about behavioral reinforcement we mean behavior that the pup must repeat again and again. By positive we mean constructive behavior. So by positive reinforcement we mean strengthening positive behavior.

In order to keep strengthening positive behavior, you can reward your dog with little treats in the form of snacks that he enjoys. Positive reinforcement can also be rewarded with a warm hug or plenty of praise. You can see your Labrador Retriever positively glow when you praise him. This breed thrives on being loved by you.

Training increases the desirable traits in your dog. It also subdues the negative traits in the animal. If you probe deeper into a dog’s psyche, you will find that most problems arise in the dog’s behavior because he is unable to cope with a situation. Training raises the dog’s ability to cope with stressful situations. With less stress in his life, your dog is definitely much happier too.

Today positive reinforcement is a very powerful training tool used by humans to train their canine pets. You can use this theory before you give your dog anything that he really enjoys. So before you give him a meal or take him out for a walk, ask him to perform a trick for you or obey a command such as sit, stay, shake hands, roll over, etc.

A few examples of following such regimes are listed below.
  • 1 Ask him to "sit" while you attach his leash to his collar.
  • 2 Ask him to "stay" while you fill his feeding bowl.
  • 3 Ask him to "sit and shake hands" before you throw his ball for him to catch.
  • 4 Ask him to "lie down and roll over" before you pet him by scratching his head or rubbing his belly.

The crux of the situation is that he must obey you. If he does not do so, you do not give him what he wants. Again, persistence and perseverance will pay off. Do not fall under the spell of his charms and give in to his wily ways.

This kind of positive reinforcement has numerous benefits.
  • 1 Your Lab will acknowledge you as the undisputed leader.
  • 2 Your doggie will know for certain that he cannot just charm you with soulful looks or affectionate licks. You are the boss and you mean business. So he has to obey your commands.
  • 3 When a dog obeys commands, he builds self-confidence. He also feels secure when he can please you by listening to you.

The reason why this sort of treatment works well with dogs is simple. Dogs have descended from wolves. Wolves are pack animals. They live in a social group that has a well-defined hierarchy. So when you firmly establish yourself as leader in the dog’s mind, he feels comfortable, safe, and secure.

Punishment & Correction

This is something that you simply must remember at all times. Dogs have no memory recall of what happened earlier. So if you want to correct your dog for any wrong action you must catch him in the act. Scolding him later is futile. You will leave him totally confused.

If you find your dog sitting on your couch, do not scold him for doing so at that moment. When you catch him in the act of jumping up on the couch, then you can admonish him with a firm “No.”

He will then associate jumping up on the couch as behavior that is simply not accepted by you. You can then ask him to "sit" and praise him for doing so. In this way you are merely correcting his incorrect action. You are not punishing him. So it is positive reinforcement at work again. Your Lab forms a clear impression of what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is just taboo.

Positive reinforcement is such a powerful yet simple training tool. It is not a drain on your purse as it costs you nothing in terms of money. All it demands is that you abundantly shower your pet Labrador Retriever with oodles of praise whenever he does what you ask him to do. The tone of your voice and your actions must leave no doubt in his mind that you are happy with what he is doing.

Your Labrador Retriever likes doing nothing better than making you happy. That is his very mission in life. So make full use of it in training him with praise and love from the very beginning. This is a sure way of securing the love, admiration, and adulation of a very lovable doggie companion.

But there is really one small matter that you simply must remember. And that is the timing of your praise. You must praise your pet soon after he performs. So when you ask him to “SIT” and he does so, praise him immediately. So not delay the praise. If you praise him later, he will be kind of confused. This is because your dog does not really understand English or any other human language. What he responds to is the love and affection in the tone of your voice!

You must also be consistent in praising him. Another thing that you must ensure is that all other members of your family also use the same type of lingo in praising the Lab. Different types of words
and actions from different people may result in confusing the dog.

2 “Should punishment be used while training a Lab?”

The answer to this question is simply NO, never use punishment in training a dog. Do you know what your Lab would tell you if he could talk?

He would turn those soulful eyes on you, give you a beseeching look, and say, “Please spend some time training me. Have some patience with me while I am learning. Teach me whatever it is you would like me to do. I can promise you that if you do this much for me, you will never be disappointed. I will turn out to be just the dog you want. So let us spend the few years that we have together in the most pleasant manner possible.”

Persistence, patience, and consistency in training your dog will pay off. Punishment will turn your loving Lab into a snappy creature. He will also learn to be distrustful. Punishment involves pain. So he might turn around and bite in self-defense.

Punishment can be postural, verbal, or physical. But do not use any form of punishment. It will be detrimental to your training efforts.

Tips for ensuring positive reinforcement

1 An early start

"The early bird catches the worm" is a popular old saying. So also when you start training early in the life of your pup. The positive effects of training get reinforced. Lessons taught early in life are easily learned. As a dog grows older you might have to make him un-learn many things and this is a very difficult task.

2 Gentleness & humanity

Along with a positive approach you must be gentle and humane with your pup. Motivational methods work well. Cheer adds a great deal of life to any training session.

3 Attention seeking

Attention seeking gimmicks must not be encouraged. They can be damaging. So if your dog jumps at you while you are just lounging or standing around, do not encourage him. A positive approach to this is to provide your Lab with sufficient exercise. Discourage begging for scraps of food from the table too. A positive way of doing so is to ensure your dog is fed before you sit down to eat.

4 Commands must be followed

When you give a command to your dog to follow he must obey it. If he does not do so and you do not reinforce your desire on him that the command must be obeyed, you are running the risk of him getting the message that he only needs to obey when he feels like it.

5 Single command, single response

This attitude evokes quick response from an alert Lab. So when you say "Sit" he sits. Do not say "Sit, sit, sit" a number of times when you want him to sit only once.

6 Do not combine commands

This will only confuse your Lab. Do not say "Sit down" when what you want him to do is just sit. Down in your Lab’s vocabulary means going flat down on his stomach with his nose to the ground.

1 Voice modulation

Proper modulation of voice is a very positive mode of reinforcement. The tone of the voice conveys a lot of meaning to the Lab. A calm and authoritative tone is very reassuring for your Lab. He will readily respond to such a tone.

2 His Master’s Voice

Your Lab loves hearing your voice. So if he keeps hearing his name being repeated by you, he will feel simply great. Make sure that you use his name only in conjunction with positive words. Do not use his name when you are scolding him. He must get the feeling that when he hears his name it is for something positive.

3 No punishments, only correction of bad behavior

Communicate your requirement to your Lab. Do not beat him to teach him. It will only damage your relationship and kill all the joy of learning.

4 Timing

To correct bad behavior, you must catch your Lab in the act of doing it. Only then will this lovely animal get the message. If you try to correct him after the act, it will be futile. This is because dog’s have a rather short memory recall. But if you catch him trying to swipe food off the kitchen counter, firmly tell him "No." Telling him later will serve no purpose.

5 Ignore

You have to show him who the boss really is. So when he does misbehave, you can pay him no attention at all. This will reinforce the fact that you do not want that particular kind of behavior in his life.

6 Patience

This is totally your forte and so essential in reinforcing good behavior in your Lab too. You have to maintain your cool and composure in training that lovely Lab who is your responsibility for the rest of his life.

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