Dogs may see in colors but they learn best in black and white. Dogs understand “I can” or “I can’t”, “it’s good” or “it’s not good”, “it’s safe” or “it’s not safe”. The driving force in a dog’s life is the desire to do things that make them feel good. Dogs don’t do things to make “YOU” feel good; they do things that make “THEM” feel good. The good news is that we can use this principle in our training!
When teaching a dog a new behavior it’s very important to remain constant with what you ask for and what you reward for. For example, teaching a dog to sit. I will lure the dog into position by offering a reward. When the dog sits I will release the reward the minute his butt hits the ground. If the dog starts to get up before the reward gets to him, I will take the reward away and wait until he sits again. The dog learns that putting his butt on the ground and waiting for his reward “is good for me”, but putting his butt on the ground and then getting up to get the reward “is not good for me”. The dog learns to sit and politely wait to be rewarded.
By making our training black and white the dog learns faster and the behaviors taught will be more precise. However, training in black and white takes practice on the part of the trainer. We must use the same words, hand signals and criteria for rewards every time, for every behavior, or we throw grey areas into our training. The next time your dog is having trouble learning something ask yourself if you are truly training in black and white?