Everything in dog training grows from this one simple concept:
Dogs recognize the consequences of their behavior.
It’s part of their survival technique.
If a behavior has a favorable consequence, they’re likely to repeat the behavior. If it has a painful or negative consequence, they’re less likely to repeat it.
“If I sit, I get a treat!” is a very simple version of this contingency.
If you understand that the consequence which occurs immediately after the behavior is what the dog learns from, then you’ll begin to comprehend the importance of timing. For example, if you say, “Sit!”, then lure your dog to a sit, and, while you’re reaching for your treat, he stands up and barks, he may think you’re rewarding him for standing and barking.
Most trainers believe that you have to reward the behavior within one second for the dog to really “get” it. As a result, trainers learn to develop a quick message to promise the dog that a reward is coming. “Clicker Training” is one method which we’ll discuss later, but I like the verbal “Yep!”, in a punchy, high-pitched chirp that dogs like. Here’s how you’d develop this:
- Start with a handful of small training treats and be in a small room where the dog can’t really get too far from you.
- Say a chirpy “Yep!”, wait a half-sec, and deliver a treat. Don’t do the two things simultaneously. The “Yep!” must come first, then the treat. The treat must be perceived as the “consequence” of the “Yep”. When I was first learning this, I’d silently say “and GO!” to myself after I said, “Yep!”, then I’d immediately deliver the treat: “Yep!” -> silent “and GO!” -> treat.
- Repeat this about 30 times. Maybe you’ll use part of your dog’s kibble for the day as treats, to prevent her from getting fat…
- Do this every day for 3 or 4 days. She doesn’t need to do anything. She just hears, “Yep!”, and a treat arrives. You’ll know she “gets” it if you go “Yep!” and she reacts.
Now, if you’re working on something close up, you can just deliver the treat within a second. If your dog is across the room and you’re training her to sit at a distance, you can use “Yep!” to tell her a treat is on the way, then get the treat to her ASAP.
The understanding of the “If A, then B” contingency” is simple, but the application of it is not so simple. Remember, think of dog training as a skill which requires practice and repetition, both for you and the dog.
In the next blog post, we learn a bit more about teaching your dog, “If A, then B”.