Positive reinforcement uses a different concept than traditional training methods. The idea behind positive reinforcement is if a dog does something correct, he gets a reward, making that behavior more pleasurable. If a behavior is more pleasurable, the dog will continue doing that behavior. When a dog gets treated for appropriate behavior rather than inappropriate behavior, the inappropriate behavior fades away. Most people using this technique use a “marker.” A marker can be a word or sound to signal to the dog that he did something correct and a treat is on its way. One form of this is called clicker training, where a device makes a “click’ sound when pressed. The click sound is paired with a treat, and when the dog makes the correct choice, the device is clicked and the handler gives him a treat. A word such as “yes” can be used in place of the clicker and is considered a verbal marker. This technique not only helps build a bond between handler and dog, but is just as effective, if not more so than traditional training techniques.
Like the traditional techniques in dog training, positive reinforcement training also uses devices to help train. The devices are mostly used for walking and gaining control of a dog. Among these are no-pull harnesses and head collars.
No-pull harnesses usually control the chest area, inhibiting the dog from pulling, but without causing discomfort to the dog. When the dog no longer pulls, the dog receives treats for being close to the owner, making walking near the owner more rewarding. Another device that is commonly used is head collars. The head collars are very similar to that of a horse halter. The idea of the head collar is if you have control of the dog’s head, you have control of his body. Although the head collar is generally a safe and comfortable device to use, a person with a heavy hand (used to pulling on the leash) should be advised not to use this without supervision. Damage to the dog’s head or neck can be a result from a person yanking on the leash too harshly.
Positive reinforcement techniques can not only be used in basic training but in behavioral training as well. For instance, if a dog is barking at people, which is usually a sign it is nervous or afraid of people, you can change the way a dog feels about strangers. By pairing up the sight of strangers with something that is pleasurable, such as a treat, the dog soon begins to realize that being around strangers means he gets a treat. The end result is that the dog views being around strangers as a good thing rather than a negative one.