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The use of praise with your dog

When we first bring a new pet into our household, training is an absolute necessity, even if the dog already has a basic foundation in obedience or other skills.  There are two common ways to train pets, the use of praise with your dog or with aversion techniques.  The the use of praise with your dog is described here, as well as the benefits.

What is praise?
The use of praise with your dog is any positive reward you give your dog when he or she is acting favourably.  This can include, but is not limited to, treats, attention, verbal praise (i.e. “yes!” or “good dog!”) and physical praise, such as a pat on the head.  The more exuberant the praise, the more rewarding the action is for your dog.

Why is praise important?
From a cognitive standpoint, the canine brain works similarly to that of humans at a basic level.  Research has shown that the use of praise with your dog releases dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin in response to pleasurable stimuli, such as seeing their owners, receiving a treat, or engaging in a fun activity.  When used as a training tool, the use of praise with your dog increases the probability that your dog will repeat the desired behaviour.

Ways to praise your dog
There are numerous ways to use praise in your daily life with your pet.  The most obvious is to praise your dog during training activities, especially when your dog masters a command for the first time.  If your dog is struggling to learn a command, improve your pet’s motivation by acting as though your pet just won the Nobel Peace Prize every time he or she shows improvement.  For instance, instead of saying, “good dog,” and giving your pet a treat, enthusiastically say, “yes!  What a good dog!  You are the smartest dog in the entire world! Great job!” while giving your pet 1 – 2 additional treats (remember, these can be broken up into smaller pieces without your pet knowing the difference) and an extra pat on the head.

Another way you can use praise is to reward all-around good behaviour.  For instance, if your dog has a barking habit but you catch him or her remaining silent during a time that would typically elicit noise, praise your dog immediately.  Likewise, any time you observe your dog acting favourably, give your pet praise.  When dogs receive reward, they are more likely to repeat the behaviour.

Benefits of positive training
There are various benefits of training your pet with praise.  Giving your pet the reward of attention and treats helps create a stronger bond between you and your dog than aversion training (i.e. using punishment or discomfort to prevent your dog from repeating a bad habit in the future), since animals respond to both discomfort and positivity in a similar manner as humans.  In addition, giving your pet praise instills a greater confidence in your dog, helping to avoid anxiety, fear and aggression.  Finally, praise teaches your dog to work for reward – instead of behaving well out of fear of punishment – which creates a more positive environment in the household.

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