What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is when you use rewards to encourage and teach your dog the behaviors you expect from them. As your dog learns that the good behaviors result in rewards, they are more likely to repeat them. The rewards used will vary depending on what motivates you dog the most.
How it works
For this technique to be effective some guidelines must be followed:
Rewards are seen as valuable
Most dogs are food-motivated, so treats work well for training. Keep a variety of bite size treats – something that your dog will not have to spend much time chewing or that crumbles and falls to the floor – available, mixing up the reward helps to keep them from getting bored. Treats should be accompanied by verbal rewards.
For dogs that are not motivated by treats, try a favorite toy, petting/praise, or something else they love!
The most common rewards are:
Whatever reward you and your dog choose, make sure you keep it handy so you can reward them when they prove they are learning.
Rewards is given at the appropriate time
The timing of the reward is one of the most crucial parts of the process.
For example, if your dog sits for you, the treat should be given as soon as they sit. If you wait until they stand up to give the treat, they are no longer being rewarded for sitting, they are being rewarded for standing.
While your dog is learning a new behavior, treats should be given every time they perform that behavior. As your dog is reliably able to demonstrate the behavior, slowly start decreasing how often a treat is given, while continuing to praise them.
Eventually, you will give them treats occasionally, but not predictably, and your dog will learn that they will get a treat sometimes if they keep doing what they are doing.
Positive reinforcement that teaches GOOD behavior:
- Sit before going through a door (between rooms and/or inside/outside)
- Helps keep your dog from darting out doors before you
- Sit before meals
- Good mealtime manners
Positive reinforcement that teaches BAD behavior (things not to do):
- Every time your dog barks at a noise outside, you let them outside to get them to stop
- Rewards them with access to the yard for barking
- Feeding your dog treats from your plate
- Teaches your dog to beg for food when you are eating
Training is practiced consistently
Every member of the household should be using the same cues and only reward the behavior you desire. If you or a member of the household thinks your dog needs a treat, they should be performing some behavior to earn that treat.