Stress & Positive Reinforcement
by - Dianne Thomas

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A sit stay problem I encountered with Mitsu prompted the idea for this article. When I started training Reo, my second obedience dog, Mitsu was very upset and started breaking her sit stays. I guess what was going through Mitsuís mind was, "itís bad enough she brings home this dog, now I have to share everything with it." Although I continued to work with Mitsu and give her lots of attention, she became insecure.

She was doing a beautiful job with all of the open exercises, and then she would lie down on her sit stay.

I corrected her for breaking the sit, and this made the problem even worse--she would do down as soon as I was out of sight.

I put it down to insecurity but Iím not so sure Mitsu wasnít saying, "itís payback time, I just blew that high in trial. Thatís what she gets for bringing another dog home."

What am I going to do? Out of sight stays are hard to fix. Mitsu at this time was only 5 years old, and enjoyed working. I racked my brain, and talked to trainers. Lucky for me positive reinforcement was a training technique fast becoming popular.

By this time Reo could do a sit stay. By gosh, I think we have a game plan here. Put the two dogs in a sit stay, leave the room for 10 seconds, come back, feed and use quiet verbal praise "good sit". Repeat the exercise, and gradually start to build time. Do this exercise once or twice a day, 4 to 5 times a week. This method proved to be successful for Mitsu. After about 3 to 4 weeks she had a nice solid sit stay.

The time this takes depends on the dogs progress. Anywhere from a few weeks to months. Strive for a successful stay, not a long one! A one minute successful stay is better than a three minute broken stay. Once we have a good solid sit stay at hoe, we are ready to repeat this whole procedure in a class situation. Just because we are up to a successful three minute out of sight stay in the quiet of our home, doesnít mean the dog can do it with class distractions. So start right back to 10 seconds and build up the time.

Out of sight stays are hard to fix, and lots of dogs get separation anxiety. By returning often and praising or feeding, the dogs soon learn we will come back to them.

Positive reinforcement can be used on just about any exercise. Use voice, gentle touching or food.

Most of us are guilty of not giving our dogs enough praise. If they are doing a good job we take it for granted, but we are quick to correct, and let them know when they are wrong.

I still believe we must use corrections in dog obedience, but not until the dog understands the exercise fully, and not when signs of stress are present. We must learn to take away the stress so that they in turn can learn. This takes a lot of patience and understanding by the owner.

Throughout your training sessions remember to take a few minutes to play with your dogs. This will make the training session much more enjoyable for the dogs.



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