Phase 1, Sit, Premack Principle

The concepts of Premack Principle can be used to add another layer of reliable responses to your commands when there is something more interesting to the dog other than what you have to offer to the dog as a reward.

Generally speaking, Premack Principle will be when we teach the dog that doing lesser desired behaviors or activities will lead to the more desired activity.

Although it is very similar to the training we have done up to this point, the biggest difference is that instead of simply giving the dog a reward such as food or petting, we must recognize what the dog wants to do most at that moment and use that activity as the reward for obeying our command.

When applied to the "sit" command some examples will be:

  • Having the obey a sit command at our desired duration before opening a door to go for a walk.
  • Making sure the dog is sitting for a set duration before we unhook him off the leash at a dog park.
  • Training a dog to sit for a duration before we open the kennel door for him.
  • Making sure a dog sits for a set amount of time before we allow him to engage with a visitor.

In all of these situations and many more, the dog may ignore our normal primary rewards if his mind is focused on the satisfaction he will obtain from the desired activity.

When a dog understands that his compliance to our requests will result in the freedom to engage in his desired activity, the result of obedience can be easier to achieve, less stressful, and faster than even using discipline.

To clearly teach this concept to the dog in the purest form you must have the ability, in every situation, to prevent the dog from engaging in the desired activity, without force, until the dog complies with your request.  This can involve keeping a door closed, not unhooking a leash, not allowing a guest to approach the leashed dog, and using other types of gentle restraint or barriers until the dog obeys.  Once the dog complies with your request, you will communicate as usual with praise, and then release the dog with a "free" to engage with the activity or in some cases bring the "activity" to the dog.

When Premack Principle is applied as much as possible to all the desired activities in the dogs life, the dog will learn that you have his best interest in mind and will give him an extra reason to associate that obedience to you will bring good things to his life.

When you are using a variable reward schedule along with exercising Premack Principal you will maximize what is possible to achieve without using any forms of physical correction in training.

At this point, the only challenges to obedience will be situations where the dog recognizes that compliance to your requests may not result in access to his most desired activity of the moment.

In these cases a dog will simply disobey and engage in the activity despite your requests or "act up" in one way or another if frustrated due to restraint from the activity.

Moving forward to phase 2 training will involve the scientific concepts of fair and predictable consequences for true disobedience.  If all of the concepts of phase 1 are still followed, the dog will clearly understand that obedience, around desired distractions, is still rewarding and becomes more desired than the competing activity that becomes associated with aversive consequences for attempts to engage in.

In this way, we can train the dog to want to make the choice to obey even around competing situations that at first seemed more desirable to the dog.