How Positive Reinforcement Works

dogs positive reinforcementPositive reinforcement is simply rewarding your dog with food, praise, toys or attention right after it performs the intended behavior (eg sitting). When teaching a new behavior, food is often used because it is quick and effective. By doing so, you are increasing the likelihood of the behavior occurring again. It works, is easy to use and does lesser harm than the alternative training; by punishment.

As mentioned, food is positively reinforcing and therefore is a valuable training tool. To properly use food, the trainer must establish the behavior to the point that the dog understands what behavior it must perform on its own in order to earn reinforcement, and then, the trainer must quickly begin weaning away the food as discussed above. Because food is so successful in getting behavior, many trainers become too dependent on it and do not reduce and eliminate it soon enough. Thus, dogs can learn to only respond when food is present.

Rewarding your dog for good behavior sounds pretty simple, and it is! However, to practice the technique effectively, you need to follow some basic guidelines.

1. Timing

Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. Reward should be given immediately after an action; within seconds or your pet may not associate it with the proper action. For example, if you have your dog sit but reward him after he's stood back up, he'll think he's being rewarded for standing up. Using a clicker to mark the correct behavior can improve your timing and also help your dog understand the connection between the correct behavior and the treat.

2. Keep It Short

Dogs don't understand sentences. Keep commands short and uncomplicated. The most commonly used dog commands are “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “come”, “heel” and “leave it”

3. Consistency Is Key

Everyone in the family should use the same commands; otherwise, your dog may be confused. It might help to post a list of commands where everyone can become familiar with them.

Consistency also means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior.


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