Reward training is the most modern method of training a dog, but reward training is probably much older than other methods of dog training. It is possible that reward training for dogs has been around as long as there have been dogs to train. Early humans probably used some informal kind of reward training when taming the wolf pups that evolved into modern dogs.
Many principles of modern reward training date back many decades. However, what is called “reward dog training” today has enjoyed popularity for the past 10 or 15 years.
Many reward training enthusiasts are less enthusiastic about other methods of dog training, such as the traditional lead and collar dog training method. However, the best approach to training any individual dog is often a combination of lead and reward training.
A dog training method that works perfectly for one dog may be totally inappropriate for another, and vice versa. Some dogs respond wonderfully to reward training and not at all to lead training, while others respond to lead training and are not at all motivated by reward training. Most dogs fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Clicker training is one of the most popular forms of dog reward training. While clicker training is not the answer for every dog, it can be an effective method of training many dogs. In clicker training, the dog is taught to associate a clicking sound with a reward, like a treat. The trainer clicks the clicker when the dog does something good, followed immediately by a treat. Eventually, the dog learns to respond to the clicker alone.
Most reward training uses some sort of food reward, or a reward that is associated with getting food. In most cases, complex behaviours can only be taught using this kind of positive reinforcement. You will find that the people who train dogs for movies and television use reward training almost exclusively.
Police & Military
Reward training is used in all forms of dog training, including police work and military applications. Most scent detection, tracking and police dogs are trained using some form of reward training. Reward training is also a very effective way to teach many basic obedience commands.
Reward training often incorporates the use of a lure (e.g. food) in order to get the dog into the position desired by the trainer. The lure is used to get the dog to perform the desired behaviour on his or her own and of his or her own free will. It makes sense to get the dog to perform the desired behaviour without any physical intervention on the part of the handler. Getting the dog to perform a behaviour without being touched is important.
After the dog has performed the desired behaviour, it is given a reward, also called a positive reinforcement. Treats are often used as reinforcers, but praise, such as “good dog” or a pat on the head, can also be effective rewards.
Outside Safety Zones
Many dog trainers make the mistake of only training the dog inside the house or back yard, and only when the handler is there. In order to become a reliably trained companion, the dog must be taken outside the confines of its safety zone and introduced to novel situations.
It is important to teach the dog to pay attention to the handler at all times. Having the attention of the dog means having control of the dog. Reward training is very effective at getting the respect and the attention of the dog when used properly.