This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section One of the Beginner's Course

Dog Training Basics
Page Seven of a twelve-page section

Go back to page six of the basics of dog training section

Go to the basics of dog training index

Using Touch as a Reinforcer

For any normal, healthy dog, being touched in any fashion by someone they love is a reinforcing experience. By which I mean that dogs are willing to learn and to work in exchange for being touched in one way or another. However, to be sure, not all touching is equal.

The general rule is that the more pleasurable your manner of touch, the more effective it will be, reinforcement wise. With that in mind, you should make it a point to learn how to delight your dog through physical touch.

If you have ever received a massage from a highly trained professional masseuse, you know for yourself that those who know how it's done can touch you on any part of your body - your hand, your neck, your arm, it doesn't matter, and do it in a way that is so extraordinarily pleasurable that it all but stuns you autonomically as your entire body relaxes and you drift into an almost trancelike state, mesmerized by the profundity of the sensation.

It is well worth the effort to learn how to massage your dog. I don't mean just that you should pet him. Rather, I'm saying that you need to learn how to trance him out through strategic massage. If you have the knack and you work at it a bit, you can discover ways to reward your dog through touch that will have him eagerly anticipating your next command. Now, that's what you call a reward with transformative potential.

Reinforcers delivered in the form of physical touch are called tactile reinforcers.

The Triple Whammy of Vocal Stimuli

When it comes to your dog, your voice empowers you with the triple whammy, because:

  1. It allows you to say a word that carries a specific meaning for your dog. At the same time that your voice carries that specific information, by carefully selecting the tone in which you speak, you can

  2. provide your dog with a world of information concerning your state of mind and your assessment of his performance. At the same time that it does that, your voice can also

  3. serve as a reinforcer that will fuel the response and, thereby drive your dog to engage in that same desirable response more often in the future.

The Gladdening Voice

With most dogs, you can infuse them with joy and bring them to life, just by the tone of voice you use when speaking to them.

When you develop a special tone of voice with which to delight your dog, we call that a gladdening voice.

The general rule is that the more unique and the more intense the gladdening voice, the more it will capture the animal's attention, and the more it will fill him with a joyful, anticipatory excitement. Thus, the more unique and the more intense the gladdening voice, the better it will serve as a reinforcer you can use as a payoff to reward your dog for developing the skills you want him to learn.

Just exactly which tone will prove maximally effective depends on the sensibilities of the individual dog. Therefore, you will need to develop your gladdening voice through good old-fashioned trial and error experimentation, until you find a manner of speaking to your dog that commands his attention and fills him with joy.

However, you will do well to remember that the same squealing, high-pitched tone that delights your dog could well send your human housemates scrambling for an exact definition of the phrase justifiable homicide.

There are many different tones of voice that will charm a dog, so make it a point to select one that will also be pleasing to surrounding humans.

In order to ensure quick progress and avoid confusion, the gladdening voice you use needs always to sound more or less the same from one day to the next. That being the case, take care to select a tone of voice that you can use in front of strangers without feeling embarrassed. That's necessary, brecause, you never know where you'll be or who you will be with the next time you need to reinforce some aspect of your dog's behavior.

Finally, you should strive to develop a gladdening voice that will allow you to shout, whisper, and everything in between, because you never know when you'll need to communicate with your dog discreetly, or when you might need to dispense reinforcement from a distance.

Good Dog

A dog that has been properly trained using the approach detailed in this workshop, will eventually come to understand the words good dog to mean any or all of the following, depending on the context and the manner in which the words are spoken.

However, in addition to being a simple phrase that conveys a specific message, if you lay the groundwork properly, you can turn those words into a potent reinforcer you can use to powerful effect in the days to come.

In fact, there is a process called classical conditioning that you can use to transform the phrase good dog into a force compelling enough to allow you to facilitate a significant shift in your dog's autonomic and endocrine systems. That means, essentially, that by employing that process, you can eventually bring your dog to the point where you can fill him with joy simply by speaking those words to him.

By that point in the process, the mere sound of the words will have been transformed into a reinforcer substantial enough to hold tremendous sway over your dog's behavior.

In the auxiliary pages of this workshop you will find a coherent explanation of the mechanism of classical conditioning. However, in truth, you can utilize classical conditioning effectively even if you don't understand what it is or how it works. If you simply follow the directions, given below, then, through the science of classical conditioning, the words good dog will come to take on tremendous significance for your dog.

How to Transform Good Dog Into a Potent Reinforcer

In order to condition your dog to experience joy at the sound of the words good dog, you need to speak those words to him, using your gladdening voice, in all of the following circumstances:

  1. When you give him anything to eat, be it meal, snack or treat.

  2. When you massage him or touch him in some way that he finds particularly enjoyable.

  3. Whenever he does something that makes you feel pleased.

  4. Any time that he obviously feels great.

  5. Immediately, before you start the process of getting ready to go for a walk.

  6. Whenever you praise your dog, make it a point to speak the words good dog repeatedly. When you are pleased with your companion, you will come out well ahead of the game if you praise him repetitively with those simple words as opposed to regaling him with complex phrases whose words and meanings are likely to be beyond his grasp in any case.

As you read on, you will learn how and why classical conditioning works. But for now, if you religiously follow the simple steps outlined immediately above, classical conditioning will take place, regardless, and you will eventually have that very powerful reinforcer available to you free of charge, courtesy of Ivan Pavlov and those who followed in his footsteps.

Go forward to page eight of the basics of dog training section

Go to the basics of dog training index

This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network