Teaching Dog Obedience

Teaching dog obedience can be accomplished with consistency and knowledge. It doesn't require years of experience or expertise with dogs. It's important to learn skills such as free shaping and clicker training. Positive reinforcement tends to be more powerful than negative reinforcement but it's most important to avoid punishment if at all possible.

Free Shaping

Shaping is a word that describes slowly molding a dog's behavior towards a desired goal. There are small steps going towards the goal behavior and specific rewards for each step. The owner needs to be very tuned into the dog and very patient so as to work with the dog's initiative and interest in achieving the goal behavior.

If the owner wants the dog to learn to roll over, there are many steps to work on to get there. The dog might need reinforcement when she just lies down on her side. Once she consistently will do this, the reinforcement is removed. She'll want to try harder to get the treat once it's taken away so she might try lying on her back. Repeating this with each step with a lot of consistency will eventually lead to the full behavior of rolling over.

Advantages to Free Shaping

There are two kinds of shaping. Free shaping involves working with rewards for steps achieved towards the goal behavior. Another kind of shaping involves using a lure, like a treat, to get a dog to do some behavior. It might lead to the goal more quickly but free shaping encourages a dog to use his own mind and his own creativity. Free shaping works with the dog's initiative and desire to figure out what behavior gets the treat versus just working with a conditioned response.

Clicker Training to Support Free Shaping

A clicker can make free shaping even more effective. When the dog performs each desired behavior, the clicker makes a sound and the reward is given. This sound marks the exact moment when the dog did what was wanted. Then he knows exactly which behavior was getting rewarded. Moreover, the sound goes from a neutral association to a positive association. Eventually, the dog will try to do whatever is necessary to get the sound and not the reward. This helps phase out the small step reward so that the dog will do the whole goal behavior without rewards for each step. A clicker sound is always exactly the same so it's more clear for the dog to create an association.

Reward Versus Punishment

There are several advantages to using rewards in teaching dog obedience, and there are disadvantages to punishment in dog training. Punishment often creates fear and aggression within the dog-person relationship. While punishment might teach a dog to avoid doing something, it may also create a negative association to the trainer. Behavioral research has always shown that teaching an animal or human being what to do is much more powerful than merely teaching what not to do.

The best training programs involve interrupting unwanted behaviors but immediately focusing on desired behaviors. If a dog is starting to pee in the house, for instance, you can interrupt the behavior with a loud sound. But if you immediately take the dog to the designated toileting area with a reward, you're reinforcing the desired behavior.