The most fundamental concept to keep in mind while training your dog is Positive Reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means immediately rewarding any behaviors you find desirable. The two primary ways to reward a dog is with treats, and with both vocal and physical affection. Treats are a great way to reward your puppy at first, but it is best to eventually reward them with praise and affection alone. Punishment should be avoided at all costs.
A major figure in the concept of Positive Reinforcement was B.F. Skinner. B.F. Skinner was a 20th century psychologist and an influential figure in a branch of psychology known as Behaviorism. Behaviorism is the study of how animals (and humans) respond to their environment. Skinner outlined three ways to affect behaviors: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, and Punishment. From the perspective of someone teaching their pets, Positive Reinforcement means rewarding behaviors which are good. Negative Reinforcement means getting rid of something unpleasant as a reward for good behavior. Punishment means introducing something unpleasant to the animal when it behaves badly. This is the opposite of Positive Reinforcement.
There are major issues with punishing your animal rather than rewarding their good behavior. Punishment can lead to undesired consequences. It can make a puppy fearful. It can lead to aggression later in life. It also does not efficiently guide an animal to desired behaviors. It shows your puppy what not to do, rather than telling them what is good to do. In the long run, punished behavior is not forgotten, it is only repressed. When punishment is not 100% consistent, the bad behavior may continue. If your puppy finds that they can get away with something when you’re not home to punish them, they may well continue doing it.
On the other hand, using positive reinforcement on your puppy strengthens their good behaviors. They are happy when they’re being rewarded. They are encouraged rather than discouraged. They will want to work for rewards. Eventually, they will want to obey you regardless of the reward. Your dog will come to associate obedience with positive emotions.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct your puppy’s bad behavior. When they do something bad, use a stern voice and make it very apparent to them what is wrong. You don’t want to tug their leash or hit, scream at, or otherwise scare your dog, but you can clap to startle them and get their attention when they’re caught in the act. You want to be stern and calm. However, if you can think of any way to correct your dog’s behavior by rewarding them, this is always preferable.
Your vocal praise should be in an obviously happy voice in a higher register than your ‘stern’ voice. However, you don’t want your praise to always be too enthusiastic and bubbly. This could distract your dog, so save it as a ‘special’ praise for particularly good work. For most praise, you should maintain a calm but positive tone to your voice. You should sound upbeat, but also controlled.
Let’s imagine a scenario in your own life that involves Positive Reinforcement and Punishment. First, put yourself in a situation of constant punishment. You work a 9-5 office job. Your manager is constantly watching you and when anything is done that is not done exactly the way he wants it, you get an angry lecture and your next assignment is even more mundane and unpleasant. You never get a raise. You may learn to not do those things you were punished for, but you also will come to resent your boss and even your workplace. Perhaps you’ll still do those things you were punished for when your boss isn’t there.
Now imagine a workplace where your manager is nice, you are praised for your hard work, quickly and politely told what you are doing wrong, and even get a raise whenever you’ve been consistently hard working. This is a much happier workplace, and you are sure to be happier and less stressed out in the rest of your life.