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How to get a dog to "listen"

A lot of people have asked, “How do you get the dog to listen?”

Well that is at the core of all training. The methodology I use is known as operant conditioning. This is a psychology term that basically says there are 4 ways to learn. Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment. In operant conditioning there technically is not good or bad. Positive means you are adding something, negative means you are subtracting something. Reinforcement means you are increasing a behavior, punishment means you are decreasing a behavior.

I focus on Positive Reinforcement because this method is fastest for the dog to pick up, has the longest memory retention, and establishes the most pleasant and peaceful relationship between the dog and their family. This means we are rewarding the animal for doing the things we want them to do. The reward doesn’t have to be food or treats. It can be toys or attention or anything else that the dogs have acknowledged they are willing to work for.

The next big portion of getting them to listen is establishing a way to say “yes” or “correct.” For this I use a clicker. This is known as a bridge or secondary reinforcer. The primary reinforcer is the treats and we make the dog associate the click sound with treats by always giving them a reward after the sound. This allows us to time our “corrects” at the exact moment of the behavior we want. Creating this most basic form of communication goes a long way in beginning to talk to your dog and express what you want from them.

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