What is reinforcement training and why am I talking about it? I don’t call myself a trainer. Even though I have dogs, cats and horses, I am far from an expert in their training.
What is reinforcement training?
Reinforcement training, aka positive reinforcement training, uses the idea that a positive reinforcer given after a task is performed correctly will increase the probability of the behavior being repeated. In other words, your animals learn that doing what you ask leads to getting something they want.
Examples of reinforcement training
– Calling your dog to you and giving them a treat or other reward when they do it.
– Asking your horse to “whoa” and releasing pressure when they do it then petting them.
– Teaching a cat to use a litter box and giving them a treat after.
How it works
Dogs, horses and even cats learn that doing something you ask leads to something good for them. They want more of the something good, so they do what you ask again, and again, and again. That is using reinforcement. It takes time, but the more they learn that they benefit, the more likely they’ll be to do what you ask.
Do I have to be a trainer to use reinforcement?
You can use reinforcement training. Whether you realize it or not, you’re in training mode any time you’re with your pet. For example, you train your dog to jump on you when you allow it. You didn’t mean to teach them that, but you accepted it so they learned it was ok.
Your pet doesn’t know that you aren’t intentionally training right now so “it” doesn’t count. Every action or lack of action can mean something to them. You can improve your relationship with your pet by being aware of all the possible training opportunities and not just the ones that you decide are training.
When you’re intentional, you can use reinforcement whenever you notice a behavior that you want more of. You can find opportunities to work with your pet all the time, instead of just when you’ve planned a training session.
If you have pets, you have a certain responsibility. You need to help them succeed in their role, even if that’s just keeping you company. That means that you teach them the skills they need. Your life will be easier and so will theirs.
For more information about training and understanding your animals, here are a couple of references.
Read my post, 5 Things Your Dog Would Tell You, for more about trying to understand your dog.
Or read this post from Victoria Stilwell called Positive Reinforcement.