For the May Positive Reinforcement Pet Training Week blog hop, the theme is reviewing products that we use in positive reinforcement training. As you guys know, I’m a pet products junkie. I love testing stuff and figuring out what’s best for my guys. It helps that I write two articles a month for Pet Age Magazine about just that – the best products and trends for dogs – but I really love scoping out pet products.
Well, in my experience, when it comes to positive reinforcement training, simple is best!
In fact, I think one of the misconceptions with this type of work is that it requires some secret set of scientific skills and equipment that mere dog owners can’t master. Which, of course, it doesn’t. You really only need three things.
You need a reward, whatever appeals to your dog – typically food or toys. Use what you already have in your fridge: cheese, hot dogs, lunch meat, bits of scrambled egg, whatever motivates your dog. You really don’t need to buy expensive refrigerated logs of training foods or specialty “training treats” if your dog can be motivated by inexpensive stuff you already have. Since Cooper is allergic to nearly everything, we make most of his treats, though we did get these in last month’s BarkBox* that are 100% lamb. They’re stinky and easy to break into bits, making them the perfect training treat. As you can see, the bag is nearly empty. (We’ve been working on a super fun game…)
You also need a marker, something to tell the dog YEP! That’s right! The clicker is obviously the most widely used and for lots of good reasons. It’s a novel sound. It can be crazy precise. They’re inexpensive(ish – there are expensive ones on the market, but you can usually even get one for free if you ask at a big box pet store – or I’m happy to send you one). But, frankly, a clicker isn’t mandatory. You can use a word or a cluck of your tongue or whatever. Sure, it’s likely to be less precise, but most dogs catch on whether you purchase the equipment or use your own sound/word. We use both the clicker and “yes” because training happens everywhere. All the time. Literally. We are constantly training, and we don’t necessarily have a clicker with us all the time. The “yes” is a conditioned backup plan for us.
Finally, you need a sense of humor. I do worry that the severity of some trainers’ attitudes turns people off from even attempting to train their dog positively. Training should be fun! It should be rewarding for you and your dog. Keeping a lighthearted, positive attitude will help you and your dog feel comfortable.
There are some amazing resources on the internet for how to get started and how to teach specific behaviors. If you’re trying to use positive reinforcement to troubleshoot a problem behavior – first off, good for you! – but you might want to consult with a trainer before implementing a plan.
Otherwise, training your dog positively doesn’t have to cost you a dime! Just an investment in quality time spent with your pup!
*I’m a BarkBox affiliate, which means if you click that link and buy something, you won’t pay more – in fact, you get a bonus toy in every box – but we get a small commission. I always forget to post about this, but writing about these treats triggered my memory!