A dog learns by a simple linking of cause and effect. The dog learns that certain behaviour results in praise and reward and this encourages him to repeat the behaviour. Other behaviour results in no reward and he is unlikely to repeat it. A new puppy is constantly observing and learning from cause and effect.
Training is the process of forming associations by the dog between certain words and gestures and his actions. For this association to occur, his reward must immediately follow the behaviour. Even a delay of a few seconds results in no association being made.
Reward based training is a powerful tool for shaping and changing the dog's behaviour. Most dogs respond very well to a reward and put in their best effort. A reward can be some food, a pat, praise or a favourite toy or game. Food is an efficient primary reinforcer. Once the association between the action and the command is learned, food rewards should only be given intermittently rather than after each action.
Young puppies are able to learn a wide variety of obedience exercises, but it is important to remember that their attention span is very short, and that they are only youngsters. Training sessions should only be around five minutes in length and be in the form of play. Playing and working with your puppy helps to build a strong bond and develops your relationship. Training should always build and enhance the puppy's self confidence, never threaten it.
© Fernamber Golden Retrievers 2002-2008