Reward can be a variety of praise: verbal praise, physical touch such as petting, and food reward. Our training philosophy and policy heavily relies on positive training with a high rate of reinforcement. That means reward needs to be used more frequently than correction. Good behavior needs to be rewarded frequently throughout the puppy’s training with you so they understand how they should behave in the home and in public.
As previously stated, dogs need their correction and reward timed correctly. To learn to avoid a behavior, correction must occur. To learn to perform a behavior a dog must be rewarded consistently. Guide dogs have to learn to avoid behaviors and perform the correct behavior to keep their partners safe. If a guide dog never learns that stealing objects in the house is not permitted, they will become a nuisance and possibly hazardous to their partner. Also, a guide dog that is consistently rewarded by their trainer to avoid overhead obstacles will learn to always stop and move around the obstacle for their partner. There needs to be a balance between reward and correction for all dogs and their handlers but especially working dogs that are entrusted to keep their partners safe.
As you start training and teaching your pup keep these guidelines in mind
- Always be prepared to catch behaviors, good or bad.
- Anticipate and predict behaviors. Have a plan for correcting and rewarding to control the outcome that you desire.
- Develop a plan to deal with and avoid inappropriate behaviors will make rewarding easier. If you can avoid inappropriate behaviors by anticipating and planning, rewards will be more frequent than corrections.
Dogs are intelligent animals. They learn quickly, and they are eager to please. Your puppy was bred to be responsive, willing to work, and intelligent. What makes a wonderful guide dog is one that responds appropriately to the rewards and correction they were given and learns how to behave based on their handler’s response to their actions.
- Do not repeat verbal cues if your puppy did not do the verbal cue the first time you instructed them.
- Repeating verbal cues teaches your puppy that they can ignore you and choose when they perform the verbal cue they were told to do.
- Do not repeat verbal cues if you think your puppy did not hear you the first time.
- Dogs have wonderful hearing.
- Your puppy hears what you are saying even if they are distracted or seem like they aren’t listening. They are choosing not to respond.
- Do not continue to raise the volume of your voice. It teaches your puppy to only respond when you are shouting.
- Make sure your puppy performs every verbal cue you give them.
- Do not let them ignore some verbal cues and respond to others. It teaches them that they can pick and choose what they listen and respond to when you give instruction.
- Make your puppy do each verbal cue correctly.
- Do not let your puppy choose where to position himself and decide when he will listen.
- Always praise all good behaviors.
- A puppy that is consistently rewarded and praised for performing what was asked learns that you are the leader and will repeat good behaviors to please you.
Praise and reward need to motivate your puppy so they continue to repeat their good behavior. Guide dogs have to work for a variety of rewards and be motivated by their partner. A combination of food reward, petting, interactive play, and verbal praise can be highly motivating and rewarding to your puppy.
- Reward is more important than correction. One of the ways a dog learns is through reward; it is the most effective way to teach your puppy. A happy, well-balanced puppy will make a happy, well-balanced guide dog.
- Emphasize reward more than correction. Your puppy will be more motivated to work if reward is frequent and emphasized in training.
- Praise your puppy every time they do something right or carry out an appropriate behavior on their own (such as walking through the house calmly, lying down next to you, or sitting before mealtime) when they are young to establish your expecations.
- Praise in the appropriate tone of voice.
- Muttering or using a dull tone of voice will not motivate your puppy to work with you.
- Use a combination of excited and loving tones. For example, if your puppy just sat when you told them to do so in a high-distraction environment say, “GOOD DOG!” Or, if you’re in a quieter environment such as a restaurant and your pup ignored food on the floor say in a more soothing tone, “Goooood dooooggg” to keep them motivated but calm.
- Praise does not need to be loud or shouted. Changing the tone and inflection is what’s important. Loud praise will often overstimulate young or excitable puppies.
- Use praise to reinforce any attempts at the correct behavior when the pup is young. If your praise is timed correctly and motivating, your puppy will work harder to earn your approval.
- After your puppy starts understand a verbal cue or behavior praise only the best responses. For example, when teaching Sit you’ll reward any attempt whether the pup is in front of you, beside you, or wiggling a little bit. As your puppy gets older you can start refining the verbal cue by only praising the correct behavior of your puppy on your left side with their attention focused on you. This will help create consistency and teach your puppy your expectations.
- Time your rewards to occur either during or immediately after the behavior you are teaching. Puppies have short attention spans and need to be rewarded as soon as possible so they understand why they are being rewarded.
- Vary the intensity of praise to fit the effort made by the puppy. When your puppy is learning a new verbal cue give very reassuring, confident praise. Praise should affirm that your puppy did the correct behavior.