Unintentional Learning: Did You Reward the Behavior You Really Wanted?

Unfortunately, mechanics and timing can be important when we train our dogs.  If you reward late, you might be rewarding the behavior that actually follows the one that you want.

For example, you ask your dog to sit. She does and you say, “Good Girl!” She gets up and you reward her.  Over time you realize that when you ask your dog to sit, she sits for a second and then gets right up.

Or you teach your dog to sit to greet people.  When she sits, you say “Good Girl!” She then jumps up on your guest, you ask her to sit again and you give her a treat. You notice that your dog sits and then jumps up when she meets new people and when family members come home.

There is a way to fix this:

  1. Use a clicker or verbal marker, such as “yes!” This short word can serve to tell the dog that small behavior was exactly the one that you wanted.  You’ll say, “Yes!” as soon as your dog’s butt is on the floor and then reward while she’s still sitting.
  2. A short marker ensures that your timing is correct.  You’ll more easily mark the behavior you want instead of unintentionally marking another behavior, that you don’t want.
  3. Make sure you reward the behavior while the dog is still offering it. If you ask for a sit, reward the sit. If you ask for a down, reward while the dog is still lying down.

New to using a clicker or marker word?  Load the click or your “yes!” by clicking and then giving your dog a treat 5-10 times in a row.  Or say, “yes” and then reward 5-10 times in a row.  That click or “yes” will quickly come to mean two things:

  1. I like exactly what you did
  2. You’re going to get a treat…every time…even if I click or say “yes” by mistake

Need help eliminating some unintentional learning?  Look for a Certified Professional Dog Trainer to help train your dog to offer the behavior you really want.

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