Most hobbies are expensive, requiring an investment in equipment and a budget to sustain. Yet all that is needed for positive reinforcement pet training is a pet, a voice and a hand. I can train anywhere, anytime, for free! Too often we pet people and animal trainers get caught up in doing everything perfectly, like on TV, or we just don't bother. Training a pet, though, especially using positive reinforcement training methods, doesn't require lavish tools, luxury locations or celebrity instruction. Any pet (yes, any) can be trained simply by using the fun, positive method that the trainer and the animal both enjoy. The simplicity of positive reinforcement dog, cat and parrot training as a hobby does not diminish it's rewards. In return for my positive training time, I get an incomparable bond with each of my pets as well as pets that I can take anywhere. We trust each other in any situation. We have enough positivity to share, here in our three simple ways to train using positive reinforcement training:
Wilhelm, Brychwyn, Huxley, Leo, Amelia, and I were hanging out near the beach a few months ago watching a perfect Puget Sound Sunset. I saw another sunset watcher approach us and prepared the pets to greet her politely. Instead of asking to pet the dogs and cat or asking me about an adventuring cockatoo she neared us and simply stated, " your family is so special. I just love how you talk to them. It's so nice." I thanked her, and as I promptly praised the dogs for remaining quiet I realized how right she was. I do speak nicely to my pets. Shouldn't everyone? In transitioning from a formerly negative trainer to a positive one, the way that I talk to my dogs has indeed been the biggest change. I tell them "yes, good job" instead of "no, don't do that." Through more positive language, my attitude is better. With my better attitude, the pets are happier. Because the pets are happier, people extend positive comments. Positivity is contagious. And it is so simple to start the infectious positive chain reaction. Just say "yes!"
Back when I taught dog training classes, I heard the "there is no way I could handle the dog, treats, and a clicker" excuse daily. But positive reinforcement training does not require the use of a clicker. Instead of using a clicker to mark, or identify, correct behavior, choose a short, one syllable marker word like "yes," "good," or even say "click." Then praise the pets success with a special, exciting word or phrase like "hooray," "awesome work," or "you're the best" accompanied by a celebratory scratch, rub, or game. Being a positive trainer does not require the use of treats. A reward to a pet is as simple as a pet! The key is simply being positive. My training plan has never been teaching my pets a behavior in record time so even though studies have shown that marking behaviors exactly and having the perfect training rewards mean that pets learn faster, I just stay positive even without a click and food reward. The dogs, cat, cockatoo and I don't currently have competitive goals or learning deadlines. I simply want well behaved pets that are active, mentally stimulated, living fulfilled and happy lives. We train casually and simply, positively and fun. And anyone can do it!
Training should be fun. Always. Every time. If I find myself getting bored with training, I know it is time to evaluate what I am doing. I can't be the best, positive trainer that my pets deserve, if I am bored. Most importantly, if I am bored, the dogs, cat and parrot will be too. So how do I keep training fun? The number one way is to always be aware of how much my pets love it. The excitement of each pet when I give them a cue or get out a training toy, brings me such joy. If we try something they don't love, I review my journal and go back to something they enjoyed. And if my pets are happy, I am happy. Yeah. I am that easy to please! Another way to ensure training stays fun is to keep seeking new training games to play, behaviors to learn, and positive reinforcement training methods. Books, workshops, classes, videos, articles, and online events like National Dog Training Month and Positive Reinforcement Pet Training Week are constant positive pet training inspiration resources. Simply being present with my pets, observing even the smallest positive change in their behavior when we train, helps me remember to keep training pleasant. Plus I work to put their personality traits, good or bad, to work in making our training positive, effective and always, always fun.
Just because positive reinforcement training is as simple as a positive attitude, voice, scratches, and creativity, doesn't mean it isn't occasionally worth investing some hard earned money into expanding the trainers repertoire. Classes and workshops are awesome, a lot of pets enjoy the successful feeling of hearing a clicker click and special treats are, well, special. Yet knowing that forgetting the clicker, running out of treats or being too broke for the next session of training class doesn't mean positive reinforcement training and the pets much needed mental stimulation can't happen, helps keep the positivity flowing. Training should never discourage. I always have time, a positive word and a chin scratch to share with my pets. They deserve it and so do I.