Negative Reinforcement

Clicker training for dogs is not a command based training system. In clicker training, negative reinforcement is generally never used to create behaviours. But there may be an occasional case where it can be used successfully in conjunction with the clicker.

Negative reinforcement can be a tiny but crucial part of any successful training method. But it is important to understand that some negative controls can be dangerous. A commonly used negative action by owners is a loud noise. However, using loud noises as punishers can lead to neurotic behaviour by the dog later in life. If used, it should be used sparingly and you need to read your dog’s body language and make sure that he is not overly afraid or nervous.

It is very important to have a link between the signal you give and the punishment. The link could be the word ‘no’. If you want to stop a dog from jumping up, be prepared. Wait until you can see the dog bunch its muscles to jump on you. At the instant you see the dog tense, put your hand in a stop position and say a forceful ‘NO’ and bring down a soft object (like a large, soft, folded towel) from your shoulder and allow it to fall on the dog.

This will startle the dog and it will back off for a second, but it won’t hurt him. Again, you need to use such a method only two or three times, otherwise your dog could become aggressive towards others if he sees them making a similar action. Your dog should ‘get the message’ and stop jumping after only three or four times of doing this.

From time to time, you can ask your dog to do less than what he is capable of. This is not lowering your standards, but rather is adding variety. You may ask a dog to ‘drop’ for one minute, even though you know he will ‘drop’ for five minutes.

Verbal & Visual Cues

A command is a verbal cue and a signal is a visual cue. A command is something that is developed late in the process of training. A ‘cue’ is anything that triggers a behaviour. Cues are environmental things which cause the dog to respond. For example your cue may be a verbal command of ‘sit’ or the cue may be a hand signal that the dog understands to mean ‘sit’.

Teaching a dog that a specific behaviour is connected to a specific signal is the anchor of a dependable action. Signals don’t cause the behaviour to happen. The signal is the trigger for the dog to take action.

When clicker training dogs you should avoid (as much as possible), pushing, shoving or tugging of your dog to shape the action required e.g. ‘sit’. Using your hands to position the dog is an extra step that will take additional time to eliminate, later on. If the dog breaks, say ‘wrong’ in a dispassionate tone of voice and start the exercise again.

When you are training your dog to do long ‘downs’, don’t hesitate to change and do some shorter times. You are not lowering your standard or expectation; you are just being different at a specific time, of your choice.

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