Positive Reinforcement

On January 9th, my rapidly-growing swissy, Finn reached his 6-month mark. For those of you unfamiliar with the Greater Swiss Mountain dog, the breed tends to gain around 10 pounds per month over their first year. They are big dogs. They also are known for their love for weight-pulling. And while I hope to increase my weight-lifting in 2013, I’ve accepted the fact that my pup will be stronger than me in no time.

wasn’t I so cute and tiny?
look ma, 6 months!

I grew up with dogs, but between soccer games, basketball practice, volleyball matches, and the occasional ‘I’m going out with my friends, gosh!’ my mom always ended up with the responsibility of training the dog. (Thank you by the way) When I finally decided to get Finn after years of hold-out, I resolved to be patient and diligent in teaching him the basic skills (and fun tricks) we both needed to live as congenial roommates. I researched online, bought a ton of books and really tried to put myself in his paws position before I reacted to a situation. And I have to say, it works. Starting with this concept from the get-go will make your life and training easier. Plus, it’s kind of fun too.

I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, but the basic skills I worked on with Finn in those early weeks seem to have paid off. Now at 6 months, he sits, lays and heels on cue–Progress! But because he picked up the basics fairly easily, I figured he he could only benefit from further training. Oh that and within the last three weeks he’s ingested a 5 inch rawhide bone whole, approximately 5-7 small wooden stamps (don’t worry I finished my Christmas gift tags first), and a plethora of paper products.

So after a brief vacation at Nana and Papoo(ch)’s house over the holidays where he ran free in the backyard, dined on Christmas prime rib (Thanks Dad?) , and snuggled on the couch to his heart’s content, I decided to enroll Mr. Finn and I in the canine manners class that our Vet recommended.


The class we signed up for emphasizes foundation skills (targeting, self-control, attention, etc) to reinforce behaviors that dogs either do well naturally or teach them new ones. It’s offered through Animal Behavior Training Concepts and its fascinating. Positively reinforce good behaviors? There’s a concept! And while the class itself is about working with your dog, I was reminded how much these concepts can be applied to our interactions with people as well.

Let’s get serious, most of the time the people need the training more than the pups. I find the human-canine relationship fascinating. Even before I got Finn, I had an ever-growing mental photo album of people who look like their pets (start taking notice-they do!). And living in the city with close proximity to the lake path and a popular dog park around the corner has only added to it.

I think we could all benefit from the lessons learned in our manners orientation this week. Take a step back. Remove distractions. Observe the situation and wait for an offering of the behavior you want to see. And when it does happen, reinforce it positively. Chances are you’ll see it again.

Have a good week everyone!

5 thoughts on “Positive Reinforcement

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