YES! GOOD! NICE! SWEET! DING! CLICK! What do all of these words have in common? To at least one dog I know, one of these words is a clue that s/he did something correct. We may use the term, “marker word,” for these examples. In short, it is feedback.
Over my years of teaching others and training my own dogs, I have noticed how much we talk to our dogs, but how little the dogs actually take away from all that chatting. Unfortunately, they do not arrive understanding our language, and likewise, we do not meet them understanding THEIR language. As any teacher or supervisor would do for you, we should add more feedback to help each other!
Letting your dog know s/he has done something you like is important to building a trusting relationship and avoiding any “trouble” behavior(s). You can also use feedback as your dog is continuing to perform a skill/behavior you like, such as Walking Nicely on Leash and/or Recall.
You can provide feedback with or without adding a “reward.” An example is working on Polite Greetings: (1) You approach your dog; (2) S/he jumps up at you; (3) You turn away and avoid contact. S/he learns that jumping does NOT get your attention, and thus, it is not a strategy to continue. Now, say your dog has been working on Polite Greetings for some time: (1) You approach your dog; (2) S/he sits immediately; (3) You smile, say “Good!” + treat, and/or bend down to say HI. S/he learns that sitting when human approaching is very rewarding, and therefore, it is a strategy to continue. See how important feedback is?
In a recent graduating Beginner class, I saw how adept the students had become at providing timely and frequent feedback to their dogs. It was heavenly! Both the dogs and students were enthusiastically and skillfully managing challenging set-ups for Off/Leave It practice (including food bowls!), and a big part of their success was their willingness to provide useful feedback to their dog. Kudos to the group!
As you continue training, think about how to best communicate with your dog(s). I’m certain you will not regret the results you will see when focusing on this important part of the training process!