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Progressive reinforcement training

Progressive reinforcement training

Positive Training Yields Positive Results!

By Kristin Crestejo, ABCDT

 Progressive reinforcement training (PRT) is a type of animal training that involves no forms of intimidation, violence, or domination, but rather emphasizes teaching the desired behaviour using only rewards, such as a toy, treat or positive environment.

I know that when a lot of people hear the phrase “reward good behaviours and ignore bad ones” they have conjure images in their heads of training that allows dogs to get away with murder. This is very far from the truth! Over the years, trainers and animal behaviourists have learned that dogs will always do what is reinforced, so it is therefore our job to show them exactly what we want them to do.

 Benefits of starting PRT with a young dog

 A young dog’s mind is like a sponge-whatever you show them it is absorbed quickly, and so learning comes easy. If you begin training your pup by showing him exactly what you want him to do, that pup will have a clear understanding of what’s expected and will be less confused. For example, when your puppy is chewing on your hands, many people scream “no” and wave their hands around. This often gets puppies more excited, so now you’ve shown him or her that a person screaming equals play. The puppy is doing what comes natural to him-using his mouth to explore the world, play and soothe achy teeth- so you cannot punish this behaviour. You need to interrupt, and redirect. When the puppy is biting you, make a noise such as a whistle or kissy sound (interruption); most likely the pup will stop to see what the sound was. This is your chance to show the puppy the proper chew toy by moving one of his toys around for a chase and wrestle game (redirect). Don’t make the mistake of tossing a toy to the pup when walking away and ignoring him. Why would the puppy stay with the toy? That’s boring! Make the toy interactive, and play with it for two or three minutes.

 Why is it best to use non- aversive methods?

 When you use punishment techniques, such as intimidation with verbal and physical corrections, you’re teaching the dog to suppress whatever behaviour the dog is showing. Suppressing an undesirable behaviour doesn’t fix the problem, it just covers it up – and a potentially worse behaviour can pop up down the road. Because dogs cannot talk, their communication efforts get lost in translation. If we start comparing human behaviour to dog behaviour in an effort to understand them, things can get really ugly. Dogs and humans have very different communication systems; while we primarily use words, dogs communicate mainly with their bodies. For example, when you see a snarling, lunging dog, chances are it is extremely terrified and feels he must put on a scary face to, say, make another dog or person go away. Rather than correcting your dog, show him what behaviour you would like instead, and reinforce that behaviour with something that your dog likes, such as treats or toys.

 Be proactive, not reactive

When I meet a client for the first time, I constantly hear about how they have had to correct their dog time and again. When the dog doesn’t make any progress, owners often blame the dog’s intelligence level and sometimes even give the dog away, believing her or she will never grasp training. Corrections fail most of the time because we cannot give the right amount of punishment paired with the exact moment the behaviour happens for it to take effect. Most corrections are given too late, and are either too hard or too soft. This makes it difficult for the dog to understand what he is doing wrong.

Don’t wait for your dog to get into trouble before showing him what is acceptable; manage your environment so that he is unable to get into trouble. For example, this could mean not allowing the dog free access to the entire house until he can be trusted.

By not allowing dogs to exhibit bad behaviours, they can’t learn from them!

 The above article is a courtesy of

PETS Magazine, January/February 2012

Kristin Crestejo, ABCDT, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Langley, British Columbia. www.