A trainer friend of mine sent me an email last night that reminded me of a really important training concept. She always signs off her emails with a tagline that reads “catch your dog being good.” I remember thinking, “wow, what an important concept that is so often forgotten.” I mean how do we expect our dogs to do the right thing if we never show them what we like.
I was reminded again of this concept while walking two of my client’s dogs this afternoon. For whatever reason we were just having a great walk, nobody was pulling or lagging, everyone was just hanging out by my side. I thought to myself, what a great opportunity to show them what behaviors I like. I better praise these dogs soon if I want this behavior to continue.
In the training community this is called capture training. You capture the behavior the animal does and reinforce it. Eventually the animal anticipates your reward and offers up the behavior on their own. Dolphin trainers do it all the time during play sessions. A dolphin will do a really cool jump and the trainers will click and reinforce. Dolphins are so smart they will often repeat the behavior to solicit more fish. Parents do it all the time with young children, often without realizing it. Little Johnny gets done playing with a toy and puts it back in his toy box while he selects another. His mom pipes up eagerly, “Thanks baby for remembering to put your toy back!”
Whenever I start a new puppy class I encourage my clients to start the Pollyanna Principle. If you remember the movie Pollyanna from your childhood, Pollyanna was encouraged by her father to look for the good in people. He said if you look for the good in people you will find it. More than just perceiving the glass as being half full this encourages us to search for those moments when our loved ones are doing something good and reinforce it. Even if just with a kind word, you will see that it makes a big difference.
So next time your dog just comes over and lays at your feet instead of jumping all over you, remember to reach down and tell him what a good dog he is, and how much you love it when he lays “DOWN”. I guarantee if you do this often enough, soon you won’t have to even ask.
Licks and wags,