ECAD believes that no one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I am going to do a horrible job at work today!” However, there are times when we make mistakes and need guidance and redirection. This principle is the same for dogs. Your dog always has good intentions and always wants to make you happy. It’s when things are unclear that your dog’s best intentions may not give you a happy reaction.
Pet parents, this lesson is focused on how you can help your dog keep you smiling.
Train-the-Trainer: Markers, Motivation, & Reinforcement
Have you ever played the “Hot/Cold” game, where someone picks an object and by using only the words “hot” or “cold” guides another person to their selected target?
Markers are similar. They are words used to provide motivation and reinforcement to your dog. Markers, motivation, and reinforcement are key tools to fun and successful teaching.
There are three Markers: “Yes,” “No,” and “That’s It.”
“That’s It” is a motivational tool used to communicate encouragement.
Motivation is the amount of energy needed to complete a task.
Level of Motivation: The level of motivation is specific to each dog and task.
- Too much motivation, and your dog will be distracted. (Figure 1)
- Too little motivation, and your dog will not be interested. (Figure 2)
Note: You will need to decide on the level of motivation to use based on the difficulty of the task and your dog’s personality. (Figure 3)
“That’s It” motivates your dog to keep trying. Say it with enthusiasm and a smile! (Warm…warmer).
When to use – When your dog attempts to do the command correctly.
The markers “Yes” and “No” are reinforcement tools that verbally communicate positive and negative reinforcement.
Reinforcement is what you do WHILE the behavior is happening.
Positive Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it rewarding.
“Yes” marks the exact moment of appropriate behavior by telling your dog, “You’re Right!” (Hot!).
When to use – Every time your dog performs the command correctly. “Yes” is a dramatic and excited marker, always given with a smile! Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (“Yeesssss?!?”)
You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog. You do not want to leave any questions in their mind.
Example: You give the command to sit. At the exact moment, your dog’s rump touches the ground. you say “YES!” and smile! (Figure 4)
Negative Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it unpleasant.
“No” marks the exact moment your dog is acting inappropriately. It means “Stop now.” (Cold!).
When to use – You must catch your dog in the act in order to stop the behavior. The “NO!” must be stern, loud, and no-nonsense. Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (Noooo?!?). You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog, just like with “Yes.” (Figure 6)
How do you know your dog interpreted the positive or negative reinforcement the way you intended?
If the behavior continues, your dog will receive positive reinforcement, even if you said “No.” If the behavior stops, your dog receives a negative reinforcement, even if you said, “Yes.”
Rules of Reinforcement
Supervision: You cannot influence behavior you did not see! You must catch your dog in the act for both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
- Example: Your pup was peeing on the floor and since you were not there, you cannot influence the behavior.
Timing: You have from 0 to 3 seconds to influence the behavior RIGHT NOW, so reward good behavior, or interrupt wrong behavior and redirect.
- Example: Your pup is peeing on the floor. Do not wait until they are finished. Instead, interrupt the pup and move him/her outside to finish peeing.
Degree: If the behavior did not stop, the degree was not dramatic enough.
- Example: Yell and wave your hands. The drama will cause the pup to stop peeing long enough for you to scoop them up and relocate them outside to finish peeing.
Redirection: A proper redirection ends with positive behavior. It never ends with a negative.
- Example: You redirected your pup to finish peeing outside, now end on a positive with a “YES!” and even treats since reinforcing the behavior of peeing outside is what you want.
Dog Training Tips Without Treats
An effective method to get dogs to listen to you is to use food treats. The dogs momentarily forget about what’s around them and patiently follow the instructions provided by the owner. Most people tend to rely heavily on using the food-based reward system when their dogs listen to them. As time progresses, they forget about phasing out the system as it is more convenient than anything else. On top of that, the dogs will only respond when you have food to offer. So how do you train dogs and reward them without treats? Here are 5 different ways to reward your dog.
- Give your dog life rewards: Once your dog has successfully finished the set of commands that it was supposed to follow, take your dog out for a walk or allow them to run in the backyard or get splashed by the sprinkler. Just allow them to do any activity they enjoy after the end of every training session.
- Play with your dog: Another way to reinforce good behavior is to play with your dog after it follows your every command. You can give access to their favorite toys, such as a ball or a Frisbee, to reward them. You can also play games with your dog, like hide and seek, tug of war, and fetch. Playing is also a great way to establish a relationship with your dog.
- Cuddle with them: Dogs love to be cuddled. Once they have done what you wanted them to do, you can pat them on the head or give them belly rubs as a form of reward. They also like it when you give them long and slow strokes on their backs. However, you have to judge when it is the right time to cuddle with them. If they are avoiding you because they want to play, then touching them is not a gesture for a reward. If they come close to you when you pat them, then it is a rewarding gesture.
- Talk to your dog: Everyone loves to receive praise and that includes your four-legged friend. Words are very powerful and can form strong connections with your dog. When they have completed the given set of tasks, you can reinforce their good behavior with words such as ‘Who’s a good boy/girl?’ or ‘good dog’ as a form of positive reinforcement. By adding happiness to the tone of your voice, your dog will know that you are acknowledging its good behavior.
- Removing boundaries: You might have set boundaries in certain places in your house, such as the kitchen and the bedroom. You can reduce the size of these boundaries and allow your dog to take one step closer to these places as a reward for listening to your commands. That way, your dog will understand that you trust them and will become more obedient.
Now you know how to reward your dog with positive reinforcement that doesn’t involve treats. This way, your dog will always listen to you, irrespective of whether you are going to reward them for their good behaviour.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I train my dog myself?
Yes, it is possible to train your dog yourself. Training your dog can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for both you and your pet. However, it is important to understand that dog training requires time, patience, and consistency. Begin with simple commands such as "sit," "stay," "come," and "heel." Use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats and praise to encourage your dog to learn. Consistency is key when it comes to dog training. Use the same commands and techniques every time you train your dog, and make sure everyone in your household is on the same page. Reward your dog with treats, praise, and affection when they follow your commands correctly. Positive reinforcement helps to reinforce good behavior and encourages your dog to repeat it. Dogs learn at different rates, and it may take some time for your dog to understand what you want them to do. Be patient, and don't get frustrated if your dog doesn't get it right away. If you are struggling with training your dog or if your dog has behavioral issues, consider seeking help from a professional dog trainer.
What is the best age to train a dog?
The best age to train a dog is during its early socialization period, which typically occurs between the ages of 7 to 16 weeks old. During this time, puppies are more receptive to learning and are open to new experiences. During this period, expose your puppy to a variety of people, animals, sounds, and environments in a positive and controlled manner. This will help to socialize your puppy and prevent future behavioral issues. Basic obedience training can also begin during this time, starting with simple commands such as "sit," "stay," and "come." However, keep training sessions short and fun and use positive reinforcement techniques.
What is the 80-20 rule in dog training?
The 80-20 rule in dog training is also known as the Pareto principle, which states that 80% of your dog's behavior comes from 20% of its training. In other words, the majority of your dog's behavior is a result of the most important and fundamental aspects of its training. For example, if you focus on teaching your dog basic obedience commands such as "sit," "stay," "come," and "heel," these behaviors will form the foundation of your dog's training and behavior. By focusing on these fundamental behaviors, you can address and correct a majority of your dog's unwanted behaviors. The 80-20 rule is not a hard and fast rule, and each dog is unique and may require different training approaches. However, by focusing on the most important aspects of your dog's training and behavior, you can achieve significant improvements in your dog's behavior and overall obedience.
What is the hardest command to teach a dog?
The hardest command to teach a dog can vary from dog to dog, as each dog is unique and may have different strengths and weaknesses. However, some commands can be more challenging than others for many dogs. One of the most difficult commands for dogs to learn is "come when called" or "recall". This is because dogs are naturally independent and may be easily distracted by smells, sounds, and other stimuli in their environment. Teaching a dog to come when called requires consistent training and positive reinforcement techniques, such as offering high-value rewards and praise when your dog responds to the command. Another challenging command can be "heel," which involves having the dog walk closely by your side without pulling on the leash. This requires consistent training and reinforcement, as well as patience and persistence. Other difficult commands can include "stay" and "leave it," which require impulse control and patience from the dog. These commands may require more time and repetition to master fully, but they can be essential for a well-trained and obedient dog.
What are the 4 D's of dog training?
The 4 D's of dog training are a concept used to help trainers and dog owners remember the four key factors that should be considered when training a dog. The 4 D's are distance, duration, distraction, and difficulty. The distance between you and your dog can affect their ability to understand and respond to your commands. Start training your dog at a close distance and gradually increase the distance over time. The amount of time your dog is expected to perform a behavior can affect their ability to learn and retain the behavior. Start with short training sessions and gradually increase the duration of the training sessions as your dog gets better. Distractions in the environment can make it difficult for your dog to focus on your commands. Start training in a low-distraction environment and gradually increase the level of distraction over time. The level of difficulty of behavior can affect your dog's ability to learn and perform the behavior. Start with easy behaviors and gradually increase the difficulty level as your dog improves.
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How to Call Your Dog By Their Name (And Have Them Listen!)
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How to Train Your Dog to Watch You
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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.