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Why You Should Teach Your Dog A “Yes” Phrase

Using a word or phrase to let your dog know that a reward is coming can be very helpful. I used to use the phrase “good boy” with my dog, V. As soon as he heard me say that he’d look up expectantly because he had built a positive association with the phrase. Using a phrase can be helpful because it bridges the gap between the behavior and the reward. This means that it’s likely your dog will know what behavior is being rewarded. And if a behavior is successfully rewarded, it’s likely going to serve as reinforcement which means the behavior is likely to happen again in the future.

My dog V was reactive towards other dogs and I saw this mostly on walks. One of the training strategies I had in place for him involved him looking at dogs and then turning them a predictor of tasty snacks. To do this, I would wait for him to notice a dog and then I would say, “good boy” and follow it with a treat. Two things would happen after we spent a lot of time working on this. One was that he’d look at a dog, hear my say “good boy” and he’d quickly look back at me without reacting. The other thing is that half of the time he’d look at the dog and beat me to it by looking back at me before I said anything.

A “yes” phrase is extremely useful when you cannot reward your dog while they do the behavior you’d like. Some examples include making eye contact and targeting something with their nose.

How to teach it

Put some treats in your pocket earlier in the day and then wait for your dog to be near but not focused on you. Next, say your phrase one time and then grab a treat from your pocket and give it to them. Do this a few times per day. You’ll notice that just after a few days you’ll see your dog perk up when you say the word. This means that your dog is building a positive association with the word or phrase. You’ll then be ready to use it when you need it.

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