It is safe to say that most good dog trainers praise well. The praise must be well timed and this is where most people err. When teaching a behaviour, most people wait too long to praise and that leaves the dog guessing if it is doing the correct thing. It is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, when teaching a behaviour, to praise early.
Perhaps this concept can be illustrated with the ‘come’ command. Most people will call their dog and wait (and wait) until the dog arrives and then praise. This is fine for a dog whose ‘come’ response is well established. However, in the initial stages of training, it pays to praise early. When you call your dog and the dog turns and takes the first step, praise. Do not wait. With the praise, you are saying to the dog, ‘You are doing the right thing.’. This will increase the speed of the behaviour, in this case, the recall. Further, it will decrease the dog’s anxiety and the dog will be able to learn the behaviour in a quicker, easier fashion.
Of course, you should praise when the dog also arrives. The arrival, though, is predicated on that very first step that the dog makes. That first step is crucial. If you are waiting to praise when the dog arrives, you are just hoping and placing all the responsibility upon the dog to figure out what the correct response is. Help the dog. Praise that first little bit of behaviour that results in a good end result. Look at it as a chain of behaviours, which, in the case of this recall example, begins with that first step.
Now you may ask what happens if the dog veers away in the recall. Well, it is no matter because you need that first step. That first step needs to be praised. When the dog goes off course, you can say “ack!” to let the dog know that it is doing something wrong. Let the dog know what pleases you and what doesn’t please you.
Remember, that the dog is processing information and trying to do its very best to please you. The praise is a guide and a tool for communication. It also adds to the dog’s self confidence and that will show in the way the dog responds. – Good; very good! I just knew you would understand!
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