We use clicker training. Clicker training is based on psychology, operant conditioning to be exact (ja, go ahead and Wikipedia it, or go back to that Psych 1 textbook in the garage). A small clicker makes a noise that marks the behavior I’m looking for.
The sound of the clicker never varies so it is a consistent, clear signal to the dog that he has done something that I am interested in. Every click is followed by a treat; every singe click, always. “The clicker never lies,” and that makes it a powerful tool. It didn’t take Chico long to figure out that if I clicked a behavior, it was an interesting idea to try and get me to make another click by repeating the behavior. He was training me to give him treats.
Karen Pryor is a Grand Dame of clicker training and she has some very good explanations of clicker training theory and practice at Karen Pryor defines clicker training. The short of it is: “clicker training is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it.” Use the clicker to signal (or mark) desired behaviors and reward them, and pretty soon the dog is doing everything possible to earn that click. He’s not made to do things, he does things because he wants to.
Yes, I use a lot of treats, A LOT of them. No, Chico isn’t fat, he gets a small dinner at the end of the day. The treats come off his dinner and he doesn’t get breakfast. Yes, I am buying his compliance, but I have it. I could get that by beating on him too, but the benefit of clicker training and its principle of positive reinforcement is that in addition to a cooperative dog, I have a happy one.
And, if you couldn’t have guessed, that means a heck of a lot to me.