Communication is important in dog training, but it’s nothing if you’re not getting the timing right. How often have you waited just a few seconds before stopping your dog’s bad behavior and gotten frustrated when he wasn’t listening to you? The timing here is crucial.
Timing also matters when it comes to positive reinforcement for good behavior. Many trainers use “positive” training techniques — particularly by rewarding dogs with food, praise or play time — because they believe it increases the likelihood that your pooch will repeat that good behavior. How long you wait to give that praise or food, though, impacts whether the dog will understand the lesson you’re trying to teach him.
Consider this: in the canine world, six seconds is a long time, and not all dogs have the best memory. If you wait too long to give reinforcement, the whole lesson can be lost. Plus, if the dog does something else — like jump up on you in anticipation — right before you reward him, then you’ll effectively be rewarding that bad behavior instead of the good one.
So how quickly do you need to reward your dog in order to make positive reinforcement dog training work best for you? The faster the better, really. One study showed that one second can make all the difference when it comes to training a dog to react in a certain way.
Dog Training Study
Since human behavior affects training too, the researcher designed an enclosed animal area and hid behind it so the dog wouldn’t notice her body language. The goal was to teach the dog to stick his snout in a particular box. Some dogs were rewarded immediately for sniffing inside the right box, while others received a reward after the lapse of one second. 60% of the dogs who were rewarded immediately learned this task of sniffing in a particular box straightaway, whereas only 20% of the dogs who had to wait for their treat — for one second — learned the same thing.
Try Clicker Training
Granted, it’s impossible for humans to react in under one second when training a dog, but it’s important to remember a dog’s world moves fast. The faster you can react, the better. This is why clicker training can work quite well with many dogs. By clicking a clicker every time a dog performs a correct behavior or follows a command, you’re responding immediately to the dog; that also gives you the opportunity to put your hand in your pocket to get the treat.
Dealing With Bad Behaviors
This talk of timing in positive reinforcement dog training also highlights an even larger, more important fact of dog training: ignoring a bad behavior in hopes it will simply go away just doesn’t work. While there are times when dogs act the way they do in order to gain the attention of their owners, the faster you can react to a behavior — good or bad — chances are, the faster your pooch will learn the lesson you want him to. In terms of bad behavior, that means redirecting the dog to a good behavior that can be rewarded.
While all of this is important in order to train your dog, you need to train yourself, too. Your reactions matter to your dog, and he’ll pick up on all sorts of cues. Pay attention to how you react when your dog does something, bad or good, and adjust from there. And as always, if you’re unable to correct a behavior on your own, seek the help of a professional trainer.