Click & Praise
By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2
Imagine a reward your dog will never fill up on, a reward that can last exactly as long as you want, and makes your dog incredibly happy. No magic, no trickery, it’s just good old praise.
In the last few decades dog trainers and pet owners have made the transition of moving from force training, using physical corrections, to kinder, more fun, and less stressful training techniques. To me the ultimate of the new dog friendly training methods is clicker training.
However, an odd thing has happened. Somewhere in the transition, from force to fun, a wonderful form of rewarding was lost. It seems that for many of us praise somehow became associated with the “old” rough forms of training. By moving to food exclusively, or food and toys, we lost a powerful reward. Actually, we did not lose it, we just rather seemed to forget about it. This article hopes to create for you, and your dog, a love affair of praise.
Praise can only work as a reward if it is reinforcing. To discover how to make praise work for your dog you will have to do some detective work. What tone of voice does your dog like? High pitch? Low pitch? Both low and high pitch?
When you are praising, what kind of facial expression do you have? Dogs read our expressions as we read books, make it a habit to smile, laugh, and be silly while praising your dog.
What type of physical touch does your dog like? Does your dog like to be touched softly? Does your dog like it when you rough up her fur? One of my colleagues has a dog that goes nuts when you pretend you are going to touch her. The anticipation of possibly being touched is a game. Be a fun detective and uncover what type of touch your dog enjoys. Massage is not just for people, dogs love it too. If your dog gives you the dreamy eyes when you massage her, you just discovered a useful reward that you can use in your training.
An ultimate praise fest could be when you combine both the verbal praise with physical praise. Again, experimentation and observation are key.
Okay, so you do all this and your dog because she was abused, or is unusually sensitive, or whatever, does not seem to like verbal or physical praise. Don’t panic! You can teach your dog to like praise. Simply praise your dog and pair the praise with food or with a toy your dog really likes. After several dozens of pairing sessions, you should be ready to use praise. With a little persistence and a lot of fun, you have created another reward. You can now click and praise!