When teaching a dog to start acting in a more positive way, it is very important that rewards and incentives of all sorts are used. I am particularly keen on using food in training for its ease, availability and convenience.
For instance when approaching another dog / human one should consider rewarding the dog with food therefore making the dog happier and feeling more positive towards meeting other dogs in similar circumstances (Pavlovian Conditioning).
What happens when the dog does not take food? There’s just no way forward, and though many other tactics still can be applied, most of them will not let the dog develop positive association with the situational hazard. The fact that dog does accept food makes things a lot easier but on its own still does not mean that the rewards will be necessarily associated with the conditioned stimuli – the owner / handler has to develop in a dog a habit of expecting the reinforcer and build up a connection between “Cause and Effect”, Stimulus and Emotion it provokes. For instance, the sound of a clicker followed by a treat very soon will make the dog anticipate the reward every time the clicker sounds. Unconditional stimulus is there already. But with the right and continuous reinforcement the dog will act on a conditioned response rather that the inherited one.
This particular theory as a variation of Classical Conditioning training is probably not only the most positive one and easy to administer, it is also the most laid-back approach one can take when training his dog, and certainly the most gentle and kind.
During the actual training session excitement, fear and often uncertainty overpowers the desire to take a treat or to make a connection between the action and reinforcer. What do we do then?
Making a habit of delivering rewards in particular situations together with continuously exposing the dog to the stimulus in question will normally offer a solution to all of the above. Fluency and keen attitude to food (or play-rewards if this is what you choose to exploit) is what we are looking for here.
So dealing with any sort of issue it is absolutely paramount to expose the dog to plenty of socializing opportunities and combine it with marking each one with the said reward. Consistent training brings consistent results.
I will once again emphasize on the importance of this pro-active approach as behavioural threads like this can not be resolved by acting re-actively.
And, obviously, on-going learning goes throughout a dogs’ life. The nervous system is a constantly changing structure, and any current behaviour, however good or bad, is likely to change so any further training is not just recommended, but essential.