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Earn a Dog's Trust with Positive Reinforcement

By Linda Cole

Dogs can be as difficult to figure out as humans are, but if we followed the same rule with our dogs as we do with people, we would treat them like we want to be treated. Dogs respond much better to positive reinforcement than they do to force. Training a dog with trust, respect and positive feelings is also much easier for the average dog owner. We should do no harm while interacting with our dogs. We often create unintended behavior by either not training our dogs or by not treating them with respect and understanding. Trust and respect goes two ways, and positive reinforcement will earn both. Gaining a dog's trust should be as important to us as that of another person.

Most dogs respond to us in the same manner we treat them. Affection, attention, understanding and patience are just as necessary when interacting with dogs as it is with children. We don't automatically get a child’s or dog's trust or respect just because we're bigger than they are. Both have to be earned, and positive reinforcement is the path to that goal.

I've been working with my ten month old Border Collie, Keikei. She was beginning to show food and leash aggression issues, and is still way too excited when we get ready to go outside, but she's a work in progress and doing a good job. Training her has been fun, even with her specific behavior problems, because she is willing and eager to learn. Using positive reinforcement to deal with her aggression and excitement issues has been more effective and faster than resorting to force. She's such a good girl and when I look in her eyes, I see a dog that wants to learn. By giving her the respect she deserves, I've gained her trust and respect, and she is happy to do what I ask.

Dogs should have only positive thoughts in their mind about us. I want my dogs to be happy to see me and be excited to learn what I'm trying to teach them. It doesn't matter if it takes a day, a month or longer to teach a dog something. The important thing is spending time with them in a positive way to reinforce your bond and keep their trust by being fair, consistent and patient at all times. Training a dog can be trying at times, but well worth the effort when you have your dog's trust and respect as his leader because he chooses to follow.

I don't believe in bad dogs or bad dog breeds. I do believe unacceptable dog behavior needs to be corrected before it becomes out of control, and changing their behavior is accomplished better by using positive reinforcement. Dogs are smart and they are capable of learning behavior from each other and their owner. Instead of forcing a dog to bend to your will, you teach a dog to do something because of mutual trust and respect. Dogs learn what we teach them, even when we don't realize we're teaching.

Dogs are just as imperfect as we are. Mistakes happen and at times, they can forget what we taught them. It's up to us as responsible dog owners to help our dogs maintain a positive frame of mind even when they need correction. If you have your dog's trust and respect, they know when you're disappointed or upset with them. The important thing about a dog's trust is that they know you will be fair and forgive them. Positive interaction with your pet is positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement isn't just about training and giving rewards. It's talking to them, petting them, snuggling with them, grooming and going for walks; this keeps the bond healthy and strong. When you love someone, you protect them, defend them, do what they ask and have trust and respect in their judgment. That's also how a dog sees you when you teach them using positive reinforcement, and why a dog is willing to follow.

Positive reinforcement makes a dog feel good about himself in the same way positive feedback gives us a good feeling. Treating him with respect earns his. Like us, dogs are social beings who enjoy the company of those who make them feel accepted and good. We have a positive image in our mind of people who have our respect, and that's how we want our dogs to see us. A dog's trust and respect goes hand-in-hand with positive reinforcement, and that's why it works.

Ruthie Bently’s article, Training Dogs with Kindness, relates a lesson she learned from her dog Nimber, and how she came to realize that respect and kindness will always get better results than bullying.

Photo by Beth Loft

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