Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why Train Service Dogs with Positive Reinforcement?

The bottom line is because teaching with positive reinforcement works effectively and quickly and no physical force is needed. Several service training organizations have switched over to positive reinforcement and have found their graduation success rate has increased from 50-60% to 80-90%. Others have found the length of training time had declined (from as much as 18 months to 6 months depending on the skills required of the dog).

Positive Reinforcement can be done at a distance (via capturing behaviors and shaping). You don't have to be within arm's distance of your dog so it works well for people with mobility issues and those in wheelchairs.

Positive training creates a dog that thinks about what behavior is wanted and needed in a specific environment. It teaches dogs what TO do, rather than just teaching them what not to do. In a service dog, you do not want a doormat. You do want a thinking partner at your side. ]

Dogs work for what motivates them. They must eat. Food is motivating.  Using something that are willing to work for is a smart approach. Why not have them work for their meal? It makes their life more meaningful than just delivering the dish to them.

Note about dogs that don't enjoy eating: They have been trained to do that. Because food is a requirement for survival, it it unusual to find a dog that does not want food. They can be re-trained to like food. This may require you to re-examine your definition of dog food and how you use it.

Food isn't the only thing that can be used for positive training. Toys can be added after the basic behaviors have been taught. Things your dog really wants (such as going out, sniffing, chasing, greeting people, going for a walk etc) and games your dog enjoys can be used to positively reinforce desired behaviors as well.

Using the principles of positive reinforcement builds a fabulous trusting bond between you and the dog.    There is no fear involved.

Shifting to a positive-based training philosophy will change your life. Your daily stress level will lower when you are looking for the great things your dog is doing, rather than focussing on what he is doing wrong.  Learning that you create the social and emotional environment and choose the physical environment your dog lives and works in and the impacts it has on their dog (and others around them)  is eye opening for most people!

You can apply the same principle to your interactions with family and caregivers to create a more positive atmosphere in what is usually stressful. If you are living with a disability, why make it harder than it needs to be?