Relationship experts Dr. John and Julie Gottman, as well as other well-known psychotherapists have spent years researching what creates happy marriages.  These researchers looked at many different aspects of relationships regarding age, personalities and a host of other factors.  However, at the end of the day, the most telling factors regarding the health of a relationship has more to do with the little day to day reactions between couples.

They key to a healthy relationship is based on the number of positive to negative interactions between couples.  A ratio of 5 positives to every one negative is critical in having a happy, fulfilling relationship with our significant others.  To have an exceptional relationship can require 20 positives to every 1 negative.  Interestingly, the “positive interactions” do not have to be big things.  Just a word of support, a kind look or touch of a hand is needed.  Although these ratios are typically analyzing human to human interactions, I can see where these ratios are also important to the human-animal bond.

In my private behavior consulting business I see the power of this idea. Most of the time the humans don’t even realize how many negative interactions they actually have with their dogs.  Although punishment is definitely a “negative” interaction, ignoring good behaviors and overlooking a dog’s basics needs can also be negative interactions.

The problem of excess negative interactions compounded if the individuals are using more traditional dog training techniques.  With traditional dog training, the focus is on “correcting” undesired behavior.  With this method the handler uses some form of punishment (leash correction, shock, shaking a can of pennies, newspaper, etc) to stop an undesired behavior (negative interaction) while the trainer MAY reinforce a desired behavior with praise or an occasional treat (positive interaction).  This type of training makes the humans focus on the negative behaviors and positive behaviors are often ignored.  This often leads to confused, frustrated (often confused with stubborn) and unmotivated dogs.

Force free, positive reinforcement training methods require that the human focus on the desired behaviors and reinforce them when they occur.  The dogs are reinforced through positive interactions such as food or praise.  By reinforcing desired behaviors, they are more likely to be repeated by the dog.  This type of training also encourages the human to look for the appropriate behaviors which automatically creates more positive interactions.

CHALLENGE:  This week focus on all the good things your dog does and be sure to reinforce the desired behaviors.  Keep track of your positive: negative interaction ratio, are you at least 5:1?  Why not try 20:1?  If you are not familiar with Tag Teaching, check it out and see how the clicker is used on humans!

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