Positive Reinforcement Training

Rewarding Your Dog Is Important

Reinforce training with praise, treats, and toys.

Do you recall how thrilled you were if your parents gave you $1 for every A on your report card? Yes, they urged you to give it another go. That is a motivating comment.

Dogs don’t care about money. Praise, food, or toys are what they are worried about. In positive reinforcement training, a reward is utilized to motivate desired behaviours (treats, praise, toys, or anything else the dog finds rewarding). Positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing their behaviour because it increases the likelihood that your dog will repeat the behaviour for the reward.

Rewarding your dog for good behaviour may seem like a simple task, but it is! But if you want the technique to work, you must follow a few simple rules.

Timing is important.

Timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. For your pet to learn the desired behaviour, they must immediately (within seconds) link the reward with it. If you have your dog sit but only reward them with a treat when they stand back up, they will think they are being rewarded for standing.

Keep it brief.

Dogs do not comprehend sentences. If you tell Daisy, “Daisy, I want you to be a nice girl and sit for me now,” you might get a blank stare. Practice getting your dog to “sit” or “down” before speaking to them because dogs genuinely pick up on human body language before anything else. While holding a toy or treat, carefully move your hand over and slightly behind your dog’s head, so they have to sit to look up and see it. If your dog is sitting, you can get them to lie down by slowly lowering your hand and putting a treat between their front paws.

Once your dog consistently engages in the behaviour, begin speaking the words “sit” or “down” calmly while attempting to repeat the word. Keep verbal cues simple and concise.

The most common verbal cues include the following:

  • watch (eyes on me)
  • sit
  • stay
  • down (lie down)
  • off (get off me, someone else, the furniture)
  • up (stand up)
  • come (to me)
  • heel (approach my side) (walk close to my side)
  • Do not touch or pick up anything on the ground; instead, “leave it.”
  • Give or offer (when trading something in their mouth for a treat or toy)

Consistency is the secret.

Your dog might get lost if everyone in the family uses the same cues. There should be a list of cues posted for everyone to become familiar with.

Consistency also means never rewarding unfavourable behaviour and always rewarding desired behaviour.

There are times when positive reinforcement is appropriate.

The top

Positive reinforcement makes teaching your dog cues and excellent rewarding behaviour easy. You could request your dog to observe.

  • ahead of permitting them to go outside (which helps prevent door-darting)
  • before petting them (which helps prevent people from jumping on them).
  • before providing them with food (which helps teach good mealtime manners)

Give them a pat or a “good dog” while lying calmly by your feet, and slip a treat inside a Kong-style toy so they won’t chew your shoes.

The Awful

Be careful not to use positive reinforcement to reward lousy behaviour mistakenly. For instance, you are rewarding the behaviour you want to stop if you give your dog access to the yard each time they bark in reward for a noise in the neighbourhood.

Shaping behaviour

Your dog might need some time to learn new behaviours. The “shaping” method, in which you give your dog a treat for a response close to what you want and gradually ask for more before giving it a treat, might be needed.

For example, while teaching a dog to “shake hands,” you might look at first reward them for lifting a paw off the ground, then for lifting it higher, for touching your hand, for letting you hold their paw, and then for really “shaking hands” with you.

Various prizes

Positive reinforcement includes incentives like treats, praise, petting, a favourite toy or pastime, or food. Most dogs are highly motivated by food, so training with food treats is beneficial.

  • A treat for your pet needs to be enticing and irresistible. To determine which foods are the most effective, try a variety.
  • It should be a tiny, soft piece of food, around the size of a pea or even smaller for small dogs, so they will devour it and come to you for more. Nothing your dog needs to chew on or that will give into bits and fall to the ground should be given to them.
  • Always keep a variety of treats on hand to avoid repeatedly giving your dog the same treatment, which could make them bored.
  • Whenever you give a food reward, give a verbal one right after (praise). Express your excitement by saying “yes” or “great dog.” After that, give your dog a treat.

If your dog isn’t as motivated by food treats, try rewarding him with a toy, some petting, or a little game.

When to give treats

When your pet is learning a new behaviour, reward them every time they display it. The phrase used for this is “continuous reinforcement. Once your pet has mastered the behaviour, you should switch to intermittent reinforcement.

  • You reward them with a treat when they exhibit the required behaviour four out of five times. Reward every third time, then every fifth time, and so forth until you’re only rewarding sometimes. Try not to take away the rewards too quickly to keep your dog from getting confused or angry.
  • Reward your dog every time, but if they’ve perfected the behaviour, you might become less enthusiastic.
  • Change how often you give the reward to avoid your dog learning. For instance, they need to respond every other time. It won’t take long for your pet to learn that by regularly responding, they can finally get what they want—your praise and the occasional treat.

Once you become more familiar with positive reinforcement, you’ll see that you don’t always need to carry a pocket full of treats. Your dog will start to work for your verbal praise as soon as they understand that they may occasionally obtain a treat for doing so.

Will giving a dog treats make it more likely to nag for food constantly?

The setting is essential. If you feed your dog, they will probably stay at the dinner table, but if you use treats during training, they will realize that they are working for a reward.

I am looking for a trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based methods.

Despite the lack of a national certification for this occupation, some organizations exclusively certify dog trainers who use positive reinforcement training methods. You can use the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to locate a trainer in your area or ask a local trainer what methods and techniques they use to ensure you’re comfortable with the approach.