Reinforce nothing – the art of increasing calm!

What a fantastic day of 121 training yesterday, although getting around the place in the icy conditions was a little scary at times!  It was well worth it though to spend time with so many dedicated owners and their best friends.  It’s wonderful to see the progress they make week on week and even more enjoyable to see how things can be improved significantly even during the first session.  It’s often like a huge weight is lifted from the pet owner’s shoulders as they start to realise that training their puppy or dog is not going to be as difficult as they first thought – for many it really can make their future look a whole lot brighter!  

At the beginning and end of most training sessions, I’m a little predictable – actually I’m a bit like a broken record.  You’ll hear me say “don’t forget to reinforce nothing”, but what does it really mean?  Well like I explain to my clients – it’s all about capturing calm and relaxed behaviours and making an effort to reinforce them when you see them.

It sounds really simple….. and it really is!  But it’s not easy to do because human nature works a little differently than that.  When our dogs are misbehaving, for want of a better term, we tend to give them lots of attention by talking to them, chasing them (when they have our socks) or by chastising them, all of which can actually serve to reinforce the behaviour they are doing.  On the other hand, when they are relaxed by our feet or chilling out in their beds we tend to ignore these good behaviours, especially if they have been running around all day up to all sorts of mischief – relaxing with a glass wine becomes the priority and rightly so!

But as we ignore these good behaviours, we really are missing out on the opportunity to increase them – behaviour that is reinforced happens more often in the future.  When we start to reinforce good behaviour the change is profound and the more we do so, the better behaved our dogs become.  There is no disputing this scientific fact, so don’t let anyone tell you any different!  If you reinforce a behaviour it will happen more often!

The skill is in making sure that you are actually reinforcing good behaviour and finding the right approach is often different with different dogs.  That said, food trumps most other things as it is a primary reinforcer, but even secondary or conditioned reinforcers such as praise and petting work – if your dog is relaxing by your feet, drop a little biscuit or other treat in front of their nose, tell them they are a good boy or stroke them if they find it enjoyable.  The more you do that the more your dog will lie by your feet ….. it really is that simple.  When your dog relaxes away from you on their bed throw them a treat, praise them or go over to them and stroke them – again you will find that they will lie on their bed more often so long as what you provided was actually enjoyable.

Ever wonder why your dog continually lies by the fire or prefers to lie on your bed – it’s because they find it pleasant.  The sensation they get from the warm fire or the comfort they get from your bed reinforces the behaviour of lying there.

Why do I drive round the country helping people with their dogs – it’s because meeting people and helping them with their dogs is something that I find hugely reinforcing.  The more I do it, the more I want to do it!

When I see the progress that people have made teaching their dogs to relax and then reinforcing them for doing nothing, it really makes me smile and makes my job even more worthwhile!

So it’s time to give it a try – especially if you have a dog who is “hyper” or who struggles to relax.  When you start to reinforce those tiny periods of relaxation you will begin to be offered more and more opportunity as the periods start to increase in duration.  The more you reinforce, the more relaxation you will see and the more chance you will have to reinforce ….. before long, the time your dog spends relaxing will increase and the time they spend being active will reduce.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on. #reinforcenothing

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