Communicating with the dog
Fundamentally, dog training is about communication. From the human perspective the handler is communicating to the dog what behaviors are correct, desired, or preferred in what circumstances and what behaviors are undesirable. From the canine perspective the handler must learn what motivates the dog if the optimum result is desired.
A successful handler must also understand the communication that the dog sends to the handler. The dog can signal that he is unsure, confused, nervous, happy, excited, and so on. The emotional state of the dog is an important consideration in directing the training, as a dog that is stressed or distracted will not learn efficiently.
According to Learning Theory there are four important messages that the handler can send the dog:
Reward or release marker
Correct behavior. You have earned a reward. For example, "Free" or "Okay" followed by a reward.
Keep going signal
Correct behavior. Continue and you will earn a reward. For example, "Good" or "Come on".
No reward marker
Incorrect behavior. Try something else. For example, "Uh-oh" or "Try again".
Incorrect behavior. You have earned punishment. For example, "No" or more specific commands like "off," "out," or "leave it."
Using consistent signals or words for these messages enables the dog to understand them more quickly. If the handler sometimes says "good" as a reward marker and sometimes as a keep going signal, it is difficult for the dog to know when he has earned a reward.
It is important to note that the dog's reward is not the same as the reward marker. The reward marker is a signal that tell the dog that he has earned the reward. Many novice dog owners make the mistake of using effusive verbal praise as both a reward marker and a reward, which can confuse dog and owner.
Rewards can be praise, treats, play, or anything that the dog finds rewarding. Failure to reward after the reward marker diminishes the value of the reward marker and makes training more difficult.
These four messages do not have to be communicated only with words, but also with nonverbal signals. In particular, mechanical clickers are frequently used for the reward marker. Hand signals and body language also play an important part in learning for dogs. The meanings of the four signals are taught to the dog through repetition, so that he may form an association by classical conditioning. For example, if the handler consistently gives the dog a reward marker immediately before he gives the dog a food treat, the dog soon will learn to associate the reward marker with receiving something pleasant (clicker trainers call forming this association "charging up" the clicker). Likewise, if the dog is always given a punishment marker before he is scolded or put outside for bad behavior, he will soon learn to associate the punishment marker with the punishment itself.
Dogs usually do not generalize commands easily; that is, a dog who has learned a command in a particular location and situation may not immediately recognize the command to other situations. A dog who knows how to "down" in the living room may suffer genuine confusion if asked to "down" at the park or in the car. The command will need to be re-taught in each new situation, though it may be substantially easier after being taught at home where there are fewer distractions. This is sometimes called "cross-contextualization," meaning the dog has to apply what's been learned to many different contexts.
Reward and punishment
Most training revolves around giving the dog consequences for his behavior, in the hope of influencing the behavior the dog will exhibit in the future. Operant conditioning defines four types of consequences:
Positive reinforcement adds something to the situation to increase the chance of the behavior being exhibited again (for example, giving a dog a treat when he sits.)
Negative reinforcement removes something from the situation to increase the chance of the behavior being exhibited again (for example, releasing the tension on an uncomfortable training collar when the dog stops pulling on the leash).
Positive punishment adds something to the situation to decrease the chance of the behavior being exhibited again (for example, verbally growling at a dog to make it stop jumping up).
Negative punishment removes something from the situation to decrease the chance of the behavior being exhibited again (for example, walking away from a dog who jumps up).
Most modern trainers say that they use "positive training methods", which is a different meaning of the word "positive" from that in operant conditioning. "Positive training methods" generally means preferring the use of reward-based training to increase good behavior over that of physical punishment to decrease bad behavior. However, a good trainer understands all four methods, whether or not they can put operant-conditioning terminology to them, and applies them as appropriate for the dog, the breed, the handler, and the situation.
Positive reinforcers can be anything that the dog finds rewarding - special food treats, the chance to play with a tug toy, social interaction with other dogs, or the owner's attention. The more rewarding a dog finds a particular reinforcer, the more work he will be prepared to do in order to obtain the reinforcer.
It is important that the dog is not "bribed" to perform. In dog training, the term "bribery" means that the dog is aware of the presence of the reward before he is asked to complete the command. The risk with bribery is that the dog will refuse to comply with commands when he cannot see the reward, since he knows from experience that he will only be rewarded when he can see the reward. Experienced trainers will hide the reward from the dog, and only produce the reward once the dog has already complied with the command. The goal is to produce a dog who will perform even on occasions that the handler has no reward to offer, since the dog's training has taught him that the handler may have a reward even if the dog cannot see it.
Some trainers go through a process of teaching a puppy to strongly desire a particular toy, in order to make the toy a more powerful positive reinforcer for good behavior. This process is called "building prey drive", and is commonly used in the training of Narcotics Detection and Police Service dogs. The goal is to produce a dog who will work independently for long periods of time, in the hopes of earning access to its special toy reward.
Positive punishment is probably the consequence that is least used by modern dog trainers, as it must be used very carefully. A dog is generally only given this type of punishment if it is willfully disobeying the owner. Punishing a dog who does not understand what is being asked of him is not only unfair to the dog, but can make the dog a fearful or unwilling worker.
Punishments are administered only as appropriate for the dog's personality, age, and experience. A sharp NO works for many dogs, but some dogs even show signs of fear or anxiety with harsh verbal corrections. On the other hand, certain dogs with 'harder' temperaments may ignore a verbal reprimand, and may need a physical punishment such as a quick tug on a training collar. Trainers generally advise keeping hand contact with the dog to positive interactions; if hands are used to threaten or hurt, some dogs may begin to behave defensively when stroked or handled.
Punishment should only be used if the dog performs something unwanted and you catch the dog in the act or within a very short time of it. A dog who ate the remote in the morning, will not understand why it is being punished at night. Punishment avoidance techniques can be used to control the dog's behavior while unsupervised.
Keeping a puppy on a leash in challenging situations or in his crate or pen when not closely supervised prevents the puppy from getting into situations that might otherwise invite an owner's harsh reaction (such as chewing up a favorite pair of shoes).
It is easy for them to disregard commands amongst the babble.
To reinforce the command, the dog always gets some kind of reward or reinforcement (praise and usually a treat or toy) when it performs the action correctly. This helps the dog to understand that he has done a good thing. It is important not to give treats every time, because the dog will only learn to complete a command when you have a treat in hand and will not be reliable when no treat is present.
Note that not all dogs are trained to voice command. Many working breeds of dog are not trained to a voice command at all; they are taught to obey a combination of whistles and hand signals. Deaf dogs are perfectly capable of learning to obey visual signals alone. Many obedience classes teach hand signals for common commands in addition to voice signals; these signals can be useful in quiet situations, at a distance, and in advanced obedience competitions.
The specific command words are not important, although common words in English include sit, down, come, and stay. Short, clear words that are easily understood by other humans are generally recommended; that way, people will understand what a handler is telling his dog to do and other handlers have a good chance of controlling someone else's dog if necessary. In fact, dogs can learn commands in any language or other communications medium, including whistles, mouth sounds, hand gestures, and so forth.