What is positive reinforcement training?
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Training is important for all dogs, but can be frustrating – after all, you and your dog speak different languages.
Positive reinforcement works on the basic premise that if you reward your dog for doing something, they are likely to do that action again – after all, it got a great result last time! This positive feedback is a great way to teach your dog how you want them to behave and should be applied to all aspects of training your dog.
Learning to communicate is one of the basic lessons you will need to learn in order to be able to train your dog effectively. That being said, positive reinforcement can be explained in basic terms through looking at human-human interactions. Think about if you are being instructed on how to act by another person. If you have to act a certain way or face a punishment, you may do that action, but you won’t feel very kindly to the person putting you in that situation.
You also might feel frustrated, or even angry. If you know that if you act a certain way you might get a reward, or praise, you are likely to feel much more positive about doing that action.
You might try to do it better, in order to increase your chances of being rewarded, and your general feeling would be enjoyment and engagement. This is positive reinforcement, and it works really well for dog training too.
When do I use positive reinforcement?
Whenever your dog performs and action or a behaviour that matches how you want them to behave, give them a reward. This can be treats, praise, play, a favourite toy or something else that make them feel good – usually, food gets the fastest result! Importantly, the reward has to be given in conjunction with the action or behaviour being done – dogs will associate things that happen to them with the action they were performing at or around that time. If you wait until too much later to give the treat, you’ve missed you opportunity and your dog might instead associate your praise with what they are doing now instead, which could be completely different.
Your dog will soon learn that behaving well (e.g lying quietly in a certain room, going into their crate at night, asking to go out to the toilet, sitting in response to your cue) means a reward! This encourages co-operation and reduces the ability to perform unwanted behaviours.
Working together, rather than using the out-dated ‘pack/submission’ training mentality, makes a stronger bond between you and your dog, and helps you have a dog that behaves well because they want to, not because they are forced to.