Health & Care > Pet training and behavior > Training a dog is a rewarding and enjoyable activity

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08/09/2013 09:21:15 AM by dougryan   Send Message to dougryan  2810  views, category: Pet training and behavior view all blogs

Inventing the Wheel

Training a dog is a rewarding and enjoyable activity. It is as much about developing the relationship between the dog and the owner as it is teaching basic commands. Dogs have been domesticated over 30,000 years and indeed are “man’s best friends.” Humans have a lot of experience in dog training. Professional dog trainers instruct based on principles founded in proven scientific research. These techniques have been repeatedly applied and proven effective.


Although specific techniques may vary between dog trainers, most all are based on operant conditioning. This concept is central in learning and can be applied to all rational creatures. It applies particularly well when training dogs. The basic concept behind operant conditioning is that all behavior is modified by its consequences. Desirable behavior is reinforced with a positive consequence and undesirable behavior is extinguished by a negative consequence.

As applied to training animals, a positive consequence is a reward. Typically the reward is a food treat and can be considered the primary reward. A negative consequence is withholding a reward. Physical punishment for undesired behaviors is effective but counterproductive and harmful in the long run. It alters the relationship dynamic between the owner and dog and can negatively change the personality of the animal.

Pavlov’s Dogs

The first experimentation was done by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. He demonstrated that dogs salivated when fed their food. He rang a bell when feeding the dogs for a while and then demonstrated that the dogs would salivate to only the sound of the bell, without the food present. The dogs were conditioned to the sound of the bell.

Dr. Pavlov also demonstrated another important finding that is related to training dogs. Over time, if only the bell was rung without food, the dogs stopped salivating. The salivating response needed intermittent reinforcement after conditioning to maintain the response.

Modern Application

In modern application to dog training, Dr. Pavlov’s principles help shape a dogs behavior so that a dog trainer can use a conditioned response to obtain the desired behaviors. A food treat is usually the primary stimulus. We pair a secondary stimulus to use when it is inconvenient or impossible to provide the primary. A secondary stimulus may be a verbal reward or tactile petting. A negative stimulus to extinguish unwanted behaviors is withholding reward; or at most using a stronger tone of voice with a “no” command.

Timing is Everything

When using conditioning to train a dog, it is important to remember that dogs, especially puppies, have very short immediate recall. Rewards must be delivered immediately after the behavior. Otherwise the effect is lost. This applies to desirable and undesirable behaviors. Yelling or presenting a shoe that has been chewed to the dog after the fact has no effect on chewing behavior. The dog has no memory of chewing the shoe and has no idea why you are angry. Worse, it may provide an inappropriate reinforcement to a desired behavior the dog just displayed.

This important effect on timing is one reason to pair a secondary reward when training. Often the behavior that requires reinforcement is at a distance from the trainer.  The time required to physically deliver food reinforcement may exceed the receptive period. If a verbal reinforcement has been paired, this allieviates the issue.


In order for the conditioned response to become engrained strongly, the stimulus must be consistently applied to the behaviors. All aspects of the system should be carried out as identically as possible, especially in the early training period. The rewards should stay the same. The timing of the reward should be immediate. Undesirable behaviors should never be reinforced positively no matter how cute they are or how much the trainer wants to “be a friend.”  Inconsistency only confuses the animal and makes subsequent training more difficult.

To be a Friend, Be a Master

Dogs need and want to perform well for their families. They need to learn how to do this; they are not born with the knowledge. To be a good owner and a good friend to your dog, you must show authority and dominance. It is how they learn. Love them when they do a good job.

About the author: Doug Ryan is a dog trainer who loves dogs. His training and obedience program is successful because its based on sound research and a thorough understanding of dog Doug Ryan is a dog trainer who loves dogs. He suggests using the Gemini K9 Obedienc... more >>

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