Basics of Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is the process of shaping behaviors, such as teaching your dog to sit, through the use of reinforcers such as a food treat. A reinforcer is something that will increase the probability of the behavior occurring again.
Operant conditioning can be used to train a dachshund virtually anything. If a dog fails to learn a behavior, it is not because the method failed. It is usually that the trainer has not found the right reinforcer for the dog.
A positive primary reinforcer is a reward that the dog finds exceptionally appealing. The reward is given immediately following a desired behavior. The primary reinforcers most commonly used are physical praise, if your dog really enjoys certain kinds of physical contact; food rewards, as food appeals to one of the dog's basic drives; and toy rewards — dogs with high prey drives enjoy tennis balls, while others really rev up for playing tug. The type of reinforcer you choose for your dachshund depends on what motivates your puppy or adult most.
Secondary or Conditioned Reinforcers
In operant conditioning, there are also secondary reinforcers, sometimes called conditioned reinforcers. In positive, reward-based training, the secondary reinforcer is a signal to the dog that he did something right and is about to receive his favorite primary reinforcer.
One of the most commonly used secondary reinforcers is verbal praise. Often, people think of verbal praise as a reward itself, but it's actually not. Your dachshund learns from an early age that when you say “Good boy!” you are going to give him a pat or a treat or play with him. Without your having realized it, you have already conditioned your dachsie to your voice as a secondary reinforcer. (And you thought you hadn't trained a dog before!)
Negative reinforcement involves applying an unpleasant event (tightening pops of the choke collar) until the dog performs the desired behavior, at which time the unpleasant event is removed (no more pops on the choke collar).
Verbal praise is always a good tool in training dogs. However, some trainers found that “Good boy!” or even the briefer “Yes!” was often not quick enough to reinforce the exact behavior they had intended. This is when the use of the clicker came into vogue.
A clicker is a simple handheld device with a bowed metal piece that you click with your thumb. Using a clicker rather than verbal praise accomplishes several training tricks. One, it allows the trainer to reinforce a correct behavior from a distance. The sound of the click is distinctive and easy for the dog to hear and recognize, even when working far from the handler. Two, the sound always sounds the same. When using verbal praise, a person can say “Good boy!” in many different ways. In fact, the variation may be so subtle that the handler herself doesn't realize she's said it differently, but the dog does and can get confused.
Secondary reinforcers are usually clickers, but they can be virtually anything that produces a distinct sound. A person could just as easily use a whistle, or even a tongue cluck, the latter of which comes in handy for those who can't juggle too many things — leash, treats, clicker, and so on — in two hands.
The sound of the click also can be used to teach the dog the difference between a good response and a better response. For example, let's say your dachsie knows the “Sit” command very well, but one out of five times she's giving you a sloppy, crooked, puppy sit (rolled over on one haunch). In order to improve its occurrence, you will begin clicking and treating only when she gives you the good sit. If your dachshund gives you the puppy sit, you say nothing. You don't click or treat, and you try the exercise again.