The Power of Praise
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Everyone likes to know that they are appreciated and doing a good job. Dogs are no different from us in that regard. Whether you are doing formal training, or just shaping your pet's behaviour on your own, it is vital to let your dog know when it's doing the right thing.
As important as that is, it is even more important to know exactly HOW to praise your pet.
Timing is essential! Did you know that when you bestow your praise you need to do it in the midst of the desired action, or good behaviour, and no later than 1.5 seconds after? Any later than that, your dog will associate your praise with the next thing that just happened.
Also, you can let your dog know that you are happy with them in more ways than one. In our training system, we use 95% verbal and physical praise and treats only 5% of the time. The quickest way to let your dog know you are happy is with your words. A quick 'good boy or good girl' is something that your dog loves to hear. It's important to use a happy voice when praising and to keep the energy in your voice in line with the action you are rewarding. For example, if you are happy that your dog is successfully doing a sit stay, you want to keep your excitement level low, otherwise your dog could break the sit stay. On the other hand, if you are happy your dog is coming when called, you can up the excitement in your voice to encourage them.
For physical praise, a quick scratch behind the ear, a gentle pet on the head, or a tickle under the chin will let your dog know that you are happy with them. Avoid big body rubs that pull them into your leg as you can end up with a 'Velcro Dog' which can be a dangerous tripping hazard when you are out on your walks.
Treats are certainly acceptable, but keep them to a minimum and small as you don't want to be adding a lot of extra calories to your pet's diet, nor do you want your dog to become dependant on the treat. We use treats for specific commands, but more as scent lures and targets in our balanced training system and also as a way to shape certain commands. Of course, when working with young puppies, we use a lot of treats!
How often do you praise? I praise my dog each and every time she does something right, so that is a lot of praise that my girl, Ruby, is getting! However, each dog is different, so watch and make sure that praise and rewards are helping rather than hindering your dog's progress.