What is Positive Reinforcement?

In a behavioral setting, positive reinforcement occurs when an event or stimulus is presented as a consequence of a behavior and the rate of that behavior increases.  In plain English, when you reinforce a behavior, it occurs more often.  Likewise, when you ignore a behavior it occurs less often.  Therefore, the main tenants of positive reinforcement training are to reinforce desired behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors.

Why use Positive Reinforcement?

Have you ever had a boss that always seems to find something to criticize about your work, and never praise you even when do great work? Now imagine living with this boss... this is your dog's worst nightmare.  So many pet owners focus on what they do NOT want their dog to do.  "I don't want my dog to jump on guests when they walk through the door", "I do not want my dog to bark all day while I am gone", or "I don't understand why my dog keeps pulling while we walk!".  Here at The Animal Scientist, we want to focus on what you DO want your dog to do.  Wouldn't it be great to have your dog lie on his bed when he hears the doorbell and stay there patiently while guests arrive? We can do that!

What is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is the easiest way to communicate with your dog.  Your dog would like you to know that he does not speak English, and contrary to popular thought, there is no 'dog whisperer' that speaks dog.  Any animal behaviorist will tell you that trying to assume what your dog thinks, or anthropomorphisizing, is one of the worst things you can do to try and help an animal.  However, learning basic dog behavioral signals and using a clicker properly can help you communicate more efficiently and effectively with your dog. 

The clicker serves as an event marker that is followed by a reinforcer (a treat, a toy, a pet, or something else desirable) and tells your dog exactly what behavior you like and want to reinforce (and therefore repeat).  The clicker is precise and consistent and helps your dog bypass the confusion that human emotion and language usually provides.  Have you ever sought a friend's opinion while clothes shopping? The plethora of "Yays", "Yeas", "Ehs", and "Mehs" can convey a lot of information, and can even hurt feelings! The clicker serves as a definitive 'yes' and does not allow for any bias or confusion.  In other words, it facilitates clarity while learning.

Do I have to use a clicker all the time? 

No! Clickers are great tools for learning, but they are meant to be phased out once the learner grasps the behavior.  While our dogs do not speak English, we want them too! Once your dog is reliably performing the desired behavior, we can easily put this behavior on cue.  What is a cue? Here at The Animal Scientist, we do not use 'commands', the "do it or else" word.  We use 'cues' that are an opportunity to perform the desired behavior your dog already knows, what fun!  

But isn't using treats considered bribery?

‚ÄčBribery implies that we present a treat before the behavior and withhold it until the behavior is performed.  This is not what clicker training is about!  There is no visible treat and certainly no forcing at The Animal Scientist.  However, treats/toys/other reinforcers are used during the learning phase of clicker training and are necessary.  Our dogs are smart critters, they tend to behave in ways that benefit themselves (who wouldn't?).  Reward-based methods, like clicker training, find which rewards motivate the learner in order to get results.  Every being on the planet is motivated by something: fun, hunger, praise.  Let's find out what motivates your dog and together we can make learning fun!

Can you just make my dog into a good family companion?

Dogs are truly man's best friend, but Lassie did not master her awesomeness over night.  Most families want their dogs to be happy, healthy, and "obedient".  But what does obedient really mean? A lot of dog trainers teach your dog what not to do over and over again.  Do NOT jump on people or else you will get jerked back or shocked.  Do NOT pull on your leash or else you will be choked/pinched by your collar.  Do we really want to threaten our best friend every step of the way? While this may teach our dogs to fear any behavior over time and simply sit still out of fear, this is no way to live.  Here at The Animal Scientist, we help you communicate the things you DO want your dog to do.  We do want them to play with the kids without using their mouths.  We do want them to chew a bone instead of beg at the table, and we do want them to stand politely while greeting visitors.  These behaviors require work from both our trainer and your family, but we assure you that your dog will learn to make better decisions more quickly and happily than with any other training method.

I just want my dog to sit and stay, why does he need to learn more?

Sit and stay are great behaviors, especially when you add distractions.  However, when you get frustrated that your dog is jumping on guests or lunging and barking at other dogs you might find value in expanding your dog training toolkit.  Many other training programs offer 'basic obedience' programs, but how do these basics help you with your everyday problems?  The Animal Scientist gives you the tools you need to communicate more effectively and efficiently with your dog to help solve your everyday behavior issues and build that lifelong bond every dog owner wants.

Do you use choke, prong/pinch, or shock collars?

The Animal Scientist uses only fear-free positive reinforcement techniques.  Prong/pinch, choke, and shock collars are aversive "training" tools that show a statistically significant increase in the likelihood for your dog to develop behavior issues like aggression and separation anxiety later in life (Cooper et. al, 2014 & Schilder et. al., 2004).

How old does my dog need to be for training?

As early as possible! Just like human children, dogs have a critical learning period from birth until 14 weeks (Freedman, et. al., 1962).  This means that socializing, exploring, and training are essential during this time.  Sign up your puppy today!

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Yes, of course! Just like humans, while most brain development occurs during puppyhood, old dogs can learn as well.  In fact, new studies show that up to 50% of dogs show signs of clinical cognitive dysfunction syndrome by age 11 (Salvin et. al., 2010).  Have The Animal Scientist show you how to keep your old timer sharp and happy!

"If we succeed in giving the love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow". -Sir John Lubbock

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