Understanding reinforcement is the key to understanding how dogs learn. Reinforcement can be categorized as either primary or secondary. A primary reinforcer is a reinforcer that an animal needs to survive, such as food, water, or shelter. When you give your dog a treat for sitting on cue, you are using a primary reinforcer. However, when reinforced regularly, the “sit” behavior itself can become a secondary reinforcer.
Let’s face it, most diagnostic or therapeutic procedures are not pleasant for dogs. However, by practicing at home for what the dog will need to do during a procedure, such as holding a stationary position, pet owners can help to ensure that procedures go more smoothly.
One of the most common questions that puppy parents ask is “What should I teach my puppy first?” Teaching a puppy a cue to hand target (touching the palm of your hand when it is presented) is useful, as it becomes the foundation behavior on which to build many other behaviors. Targeting is an excellent way for your puppy to practice focusing his/her attention on you. It can also be used to help puppies learn to greet people politely.
Are you always tripping over dog toys? Did you know that, according to the CDC, tripping over dog toys caused almost 10% of pet-related fall injuries? Fortunately, you can avoid becoming a statistic by teaching your dog to put away his toys in the toy box!
As many cats live their entire lives indoors, clicker training can provide valuable mental and physical stimulation. But where to begin? Training a cat to touch a target is not only fun and easy, but it can serve as the foundation for more complicated behaviors.
As important as it is to teach your dog basic behaviors such as “sit” and “stay,” it’s equally as important to teach a release cue to let the dog know when he can release from his current position. Not only a useful training tool, a solid release cue can save your dog’s life. Use a release cue before going over a threshold, like through a doorway, out of a crate, or out of a vehicle. A release cue is also extremely useful for dog sports, as it builds a solid start line as well as clarity and confidence for duration behaviors.
If you teach a dog to distinguish between his left paw and his right paw, you will have a terrific skill for competition training. The behavior has many other handy applications, such as grooming (nail trims), vet visits, and more. Service-dog trainers can think of a dozen applications for this concept! In this video, KPA CTP Carol Milner’s dog Sweep demonstrates his knowledge of left paw versus right paw.
Does your dog bark wildly when the doorbell rings? Dogs bark when they hear the doorbell for several reasons: they are excited (“Yay, someone is here!), they are scared (“Oh no, someone is here!”), or they are simply doing their duty (“Someone is here—I need to tell my humans!”). No matter what your dog’s motive is for barking, you can teach your dog to be quiet when the doorbell rings by asking for an incompatible behavior, such as lying down on his/her bed.
Teaching your dog to weave through your legs is great for building confidence, and the leg weave is a fundamental skill for dog sports like Canine Freestyle. The goal of leg weave is for your dog to weave through your legs in a figure eight pattern, as demonstrated in this video.
The effective use of non-food reinforcers is a critical skill that all trainers will likely use or need at some point in their training career. In this video, Ken Ramirez and his dog Marlin demonstrate the use of clapping as a conditioned reinforcer. Ken begins by teaching Marlin that clapping is associated with yummy food. Once Marlin associates clapping with reinforcement, Ken begins cueing behaviors and then clapping.