Let's talk about one of the best ways to change your dog’s behavior! I am certain you have heard us lecture you all about the benefits of positive reinforcement training. Learning theory tells us that when you reinforce behavior the probability of that behavior happening again in the future increases. Let me give you a real life example that I am struggling with right now. Cadbury puts out those delicious cream filled eggs this time of year and I am hopelessly addicted to them! I see them in the store, I know how much I enjoy them, how tasty they are. I even have a ritualistic way of eating them, its bad. But I do the behavior, I purchase an egg, I eat it immediately in my car and boom. My behavior is so reinforced each time and as a result, I buy them literally every time I see them!
Let’s take that and shift our perspective. You all know I’m a crazy chocolate addict, but what makes your dogs behave the same way? What motivates your dog more than anything? For many that’s a treat or a special toy. Maybe it’s boiled chicken, hotdogs, liver, meatballs, their special ball or frisbee. Identify what your dog wants to work for and we can use their desire to have it as a way to shape the behaviors we want!
Now let’s talk about SMART training, a program developed by Kathy Sdao Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. The acronym stands for “See Mark And Reward Training.” This method of training invites you, as the teacher, to be a better observer and to recognize all the great things your dog does. We miss so much of what our dogs get right, through this methodology we are able to pay better attention to our dogs and capitalize on the good behaviors!
Here’s how it works. During your average day, keep a clicker in your pocket or teach your dog all about verbal marker words like “yes!” Keep a bag of treats handy in the same location every day or better yet, set aside a portion of your dog’s regular meals and use that for training. See your dog making a good choice, Mark it with a click or verbal marker, and Reward your dog for doing the correct thing. This isn’t the same as an intensive training session but instead will spread your training throughout the day and as a result your dog will start to make those choices more often. For example, you See your dog choosing to lay on their bed, you Mark that behavior and Reward them with a little treat. Your dog is going to repeat this very same behavior again in the future and before you know it, you have a dog making the right choices left and right because they WANT to!
Try this out with your dogs at home. Maybe even keep a little chart of how many good behaviors you notice each day. Does you dog continue to offer more and more great behaviors? Are their manners improving as a result of your SMART training? Let us know!