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Training my German Shepherd

Zada, My European German Shepherd, with Her StickWhile I've blogged before about how my European working-line German shepherd, Zada, has her shortcomings, I also must admit she's a pretty darned good dog in a lot of ways. Her personality's not perfect (ahem...mostly in regards to other dogs and kids) but it does lend itself towards pleasing her humans.

Even with a "stubborn" dog, it can be relatively easy to train them to perform to cues (not commands :) ... as a dog trainer, you just need to find their sweet spot(s). What's that mean, you ask?

Zada with Grass on Her Face All dogs are motivated by SOMETHING. The majority of the time, like us, they're motivated by many things. The 'secret' is finding out their most favorite things - the scientific term is positive reinforcers - and integrating them into your training sessions. Of course, many different 'methods' of training come into play when using reinforcers: operant conditioning, classical conditioning, the Premack Principle, etc. etc. etc.

European German Shepherd Retrieving in Water Anyway, recently I had a homework assignment for my dog training class - Zada and I are re-taking Level II dog obedience class with my trainer - and it was to make a list of at LEAST 25 of Zada's reinforcers. I learned that positive reinforcers fall into (4) categories: play, food, touch and territory. I remember thinking, twenty-FIVE? She's got to be kidding me, there are only about 4. I was wrong...this list isn't even complete, but just goes to show there are many, MANY reinforcers you have at your disposal when training your dog.

  1. Outside
    • Fetch
      • Stick
      • Toys (Jolly Ball)
      • Ball (tennis)
    • Play
      • Stick - chewing
      • Jolly Ball
    • Chase
      • Dogs
      • Cats
      • Deer
      • Turkeys
      • Bugs
  2. Inside
    • Fetch
      • Toys (nearest)
    • Play
      • Toys
      • Kongs
    • Chewing
      • Bones (real)
      • Kong
        • Peanut butter
        • Yogurt
        • Soft treats
  1. Meat
  2. Cheese
  3. Peanut butter
  4. Any other snacks/people food
  1. Massages
  2. Scratching
    • Nose
    • Rump
    • Ears
Territory (i.e., moving towards)
  1. Animals
    • Dogs
    • Cats
    • Deer
  2. Water
  3. Outside (from inside)
  4. Toys
    • Sticks
    • Toys
    • Other
This list is by no means complete! Also, keep in mind there is a hierarchy of what your dog wants generally - i.e., what motivates her the most - but when multiple motivators are present, you need to know THAT hierarchy as well. For instance, if we're outside, Zada will ignore treats in favor of a stick. If we're inside, she'll choose a treat over toys, etc.

The list I have here might seem a little far-fetched - how on earth could I possibly use her love of wanting to move towards other dogs as a reinforcement for good behavior? It's easier than you might think. Also, since every dog's different, keep in mind simple, daily tasks - such as brushing a dog - can be a motivator for him!

*PS: Thanks to Elise for helping me out with the code on the bulleted list...yes, that's right, it's hand-coded! Big accomplishment for me, not a big deal for anyone else :)