Capture something, anything good.
Old obedience training models focused on rewarding dogs only after they responded to a cue. While modern training reinforces behaviors performed on cue, it also focuses on reinforcing behavior that a dog performs on their own.
At any given moment, your dog is doing something you can reinforce.
Looking at you
Your dog may also NOT be doing behavior(s) you want to discourage.
Not pulling toward or barking at a squirrel, cat, dog, etc.
Not being underfoot in the kitchen
Not begging for food
So, what does NOT doing those things look like?
Standing (four on the floor)
Looking away from squirrel, cat, dog, etc.
Lying on a mat outside the kitchen
Lying on a mat away from the table
Yesterday, I joined the #goodstuffpettruck on the Sacramento stop of their nationwide tour. I was asked talk to dog owners about positive reinforcement training and answer their training questions (plus hand out free goodies).
More than a few dogs began to react to the other dogs, so I got to demonstrate the power of positive reinforcement in a real-world setting. And I only did one thing.
I captured (marked and reinforced) any behavior other than pulling or barking at the other dogs.
I wasn't looking for perfection. Looking away from another dog was enough. Looking at the owner was great. But for only a few minutes, we worked on just capturing anything other than barking and pulling.
And with a few minutes of training, a mature German Shepherd from working K-9 lines (you know, the kind so many say can't be trained with positive reinforcement) was successfully making the choice to look away from another dog. It wasn't perfect. It was only a few minutes of training, after all. But there was behavior change.
And all we did was capture anything good. It didn't have to be perfect. It didn't have to be pretty. It just had to be something good, something other than reacting.
Many dog owners struggle with this at first, because they're so used to the idea that the dog has to DO something for the treat. But when we learn to look for behaviors that are, in fact, the dog doing something other than the unwanted behavior we're trying to get rid of, there are a lot of possibilities.
So, when you head out with your dog this week, practice capturing anything good.
Note: Behaviors aren't really "good" or "bad." Dogs just operate in ways that work for them in this crazy human world, after all. But many dog owners do see them this way, so I use the term "good" here instead of "behaviors that are acceptable to you." Brevity, and all that.