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Posted on 07-27-2012

As pet owners, we have to understand how our actions, and reactions play a role in reinforcing our pet's behavior. Many pets have their owners trained to get what they want. Why do I say this? Let's take the example of Spike's desire to lay in bed with you. He will go to your bed and scratch to come up. You, as the well trained human, let him up with you.iStock_000003108251XSmall.jpg

In this case Spike's scratching is met with his desired response. By letting him up on your bed you just "reinforced" this particular behavior. Yes, letting Spike up on your bed one hundred times a day gets annoying, but now on top of it, you have scratch marks or holes (depending on how many times Spike has done this) all over your bed. What many people do not understand is that in this situation the human, not the dog, created the problem.

When training your pet any desired behavior must be reinforced with something pleasant. Positive reinforcement training is a friendly, non-punishable technique to teach your pet to perform behaviors using physical attention, treats or toys as a reward. Rewarding your pet for appropriate behavior will help make that behavior more likely to occur in the future. Rewards are the most powerful tools to influence your pet's behavior. When using this technique it is important to find out what will best motivate your pet to do what you believe is a desirable behavior. In the case talked about above Spike scratched, an undesired behavior, and you let him on the bed which reinforced this negative behavior with something pleasant.

Timing is one of the most crucial assets when using positive reinforcement in training. You must reward your pet immediately after responding correctly to what you want them to do. This way, your pet will associate certain behaviors with actual rewards. Knowing your pet's body language will also play a role in positive reinforcement. If every time you lay on your bed Spike is pacing back and forth, then you know scratching is the next behavior to occur. You want to stop the scratching behavior before it happens by having Spike "sit" and immediately let him know he did something good by telling him "yes" and then rewarding him by letting him on the bed.

Consistency is another important asset in positive reinforcement. Every family member should use the same words and reward the correct behavior. One person rewarding the wrong behavior will confuse poor Spike and you will not see your desired action from him. Training your pet should be a fun time for both you and them.

If you have any questions regarding training your pet, please contact our office at (610) 458-8789. Eagle Animal Hospital serves Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and surrounding areas.

Written by Alyson Kelly, veterinary technician

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