While historically there have been many different methods of training dogs, the most popular, most effective, and most humane method that works for the vast majority of dogs and dog owners is positive reinforcement dog training.
What is positive reinforcement dog training?
Positive reinforcement dog training is a method that uses rewards, such as treats or praise, to reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Positive reinforcement dog training can be used for basic obedience commands or for more complicated tasks like agility training.
Because of the clear benefits of positive reinforcement training, and the dangers of some of the older, more traditional methods like punishment-based training, more and more dog trainers and behaviorists are using positive reinforcement exclusively. On our website, we only list dog trainers that provide positive reinforcement-based training methods, because we believe this to be the best way to train dogs.
Benefits of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
There are a number of benefits to positive reinforcement dog training:
- Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are more likely to obey commands and display good behavior than those trained with punishment-based methods.
- Positive reinforcement dog training is more humane than punishment-based methods, which can cause fear and anxiety in dogs.
- Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are more likely to enjoy the training process and develop strong bonds with their owners.
- Positive reinforcement dog training is more likely to result in long-term behavior change than punishment-based methods.
- Positive reinforcement dog training can be used to train dogs for a variety of tasks, from simple obedience commands to more complicated behaviors like agility training.
With that in mind, if you’re looking for a dog trainer, make sure to find one that uses positive reinforcement methods exclusively. On our website, we only list dog trainers that use positive reinforcement-based training methods. But it’s still a good idea to talk with your preferred dog trainer about their training methods and their opinions regarding positive reinforcement training.
Tips for using positive reinforcement successfully
There are a few things to keep in mind when using positive reinforcement dog training:
Only use high-reward items
When training, only use rewards that your dog sees as being high reward. In most cases this will be treats in the form of food, but it could also be items like toys, praise or petting. It is also fine to use more than one high-reward item while training your dog, such as providing an encouraging “good job dog’s name” while providing a high-reward treat.
If your dog doesn’t really like the treats, or if they have them frequently while not training, then they may not see them as being high-reward items. In this case you can try a different treat, or simply use praise as the primary reward while continuing to offer the occasional treat. Or you can consider switching treats provided at home to be lower value, and only provide high-value treats while training.
High value treat ideas that you can make at home include boiled chicken, cheese, hot dogs, and bacon. Store-bought treats that are typically high value include freeze-dried liver, smoked salmon, and rotisserie chicken. Keeping these treats in moderation is important to maintain a healthy diet for your dog.
Deliver the reward immediately
Any reward provided to your dog, whether it’s a treat, a toy, or simply a praise, should be given immediately after the desired behavior is performed. That way your dog associates the behavior with the reward, and is more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. If there is a delay between the behavior and the reward, your dog may not understand that the two are connected.
This will likely take some practice for humans, and it is something that you should always keep in mind while going through different training sessions. Correct timing is the key to ensure that your dog associates positive training methods with desired behaviors.
Use a marker signal
A marker signal is some sort of sign or cue that you give to your dog that lets them know they have done the desired behavior and will now get a reward. The most common marker signal is using the word “yes” or “good”, but you can also use a clicker, or simply show your dog the treat.
The marker signal should always be given at the exact moment the desired behavior is performed, so that your dog understands what they did to earn the reward. For example, if you are teaching your dog to sit and stay, you would wait until their butt hits the ground then immediately use the marker signal and provide a reward soon afterwards.
Market signals help when timing is a problem, as they can be given the exact moment the behavior is performed even if there is a slight delay in providing the reward. They also help to keep your dog’s focus on you while they are performing the desired behavior, as they know that a reward is coming and will be waiting for your cue.
It’s important to be consistent when using positive reinforcement dog training. That means always rewarding desired behaviors and never rewarding undesired behaviors. If you are inconsistent with your rewards or commands, your dog will become confused and may start to exhibit unwanted behaviors.
For example, if your command for spinning to the right is “spin” and the command for spinning to the left is “twirl”, it is important to remember each and every time to use the correct command. If you sometimes say “spin” when your dog is spinning to the left, or “twirl” when they are spinning to the right, your dog will become confused and may start to spin in both directions without being given a command.
It’s also important to be consistent with the hand signals you use for each command. Your dog will likely first pick up on your hand signals before associating a verbal command with an action. So if you sometimes use a different hand signal for the same command, your dog will become confused.
The most important thing is to be consistent with the commands you use and the rewards you give. That way your dog knows exactly what they need to do to earn a reward, and can focus on performing the desired behavior.
Keep your emotions in check
When training your dog, it’s important to remain calm and positive. Dogs are very good at reading human emotions, so if you get angry or frustrated while training, your dog will likely become anxious or stressed as well. This can make it more difficult for them to learn, makes training sessions less enjoyable for them, and may lead to unwanted behaviors .
If you find yourself getting angry or frustrated during a training session, it’s best to take a break and try again later. You can also try asking a friend or family member for help, or hiring a professional dog trainer.
When teaching your dog new behaviors, it’s important to be patient. Dogs learn at their own pace, and some may pick up new behaviors more quickly than others. Forcing your dog to do something they don’t understand or aren’t ready for will only lead to frustration on both of your parts.
If you’re having trouble being patient, it may help to break down the behavior into smaller steps. For example, if you’re teaching your dog to crawl, you should focus on making sure that you have mastered the down command first. Once they’re comfortable with that, you can then work on more complicated commands like crawl.
Remember that every dog is different and will learn at their own pace. With patience and consistency, most dogs will be able to learn new behaviors relatively quickly.
Change up the rewards
If you find that your dog is no longer responding well to treats, it may be helpful to change up the rewards you’re using. Dogs can get bored of the same treat, so try mixing it up with different flavors or textures. You can also use toys or praise as rewards.
What is positive reinforcement dog training and how does it work?
With positive reinforcement training, anything that your dog finds rewarding (treats, praises, toys) is used as a means to encourage and reward desired behaviors. Because of this increased chance of repeating the behavior due to being rewarded, positive reinforcement has shown itself to be one of the most successful methods in shaping or changing unacceptable behavior in dogs.
Dogs are extremely responsive to our emotions and tone of voice. When you are training your dog, it is important to be positive and upbeat. Avoid using negative words like “no” or “don’t” as these can confuse your dog or make them think that the behavior you want them to avoid is actually something you want them to do. Instead,
FAQs about positive reinforcement dog training
When should I start using positive reinforcement dog training?
You can start using positive reinforcement dog training as soon as you get your puppy. It is never too early (or late) to start teaching your dog good manners and desired behaviors.
How often should I train my dog?
Most experts recommend that you train your dog for at least 15 minutes a day. However, it is important to keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to training. So, if you only have a few minutes to spare each day, that’s okay. Just make sure that you are focused and consistent during your training sessions.
What are some common mistakes people make with positive reinforcement dog training?
One of the most common mistakes people make with positive reinforcement dog training is using too many treats. While it’s important to reward your dog for good behavior, you don’t want to overdo it. Otherwise, they may start to expect a treat every time they do something you want them to do.
Is positive reinforcement dog training less effective than corrective dog training?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that one type of training is more effective than the other in the short term. However, many dog owners find that positive reinforcement dog training is more successful in the long-term because it builds a bond of trust between you and your dog.
What if my dog doesn’t respond well to treats?
If your dog doesn’t seem interested in treats, you may want to try using toys or praise as rewards instead. Dogs can get bored of the same treat, so try mixing it up with different flavors or textures. You can also use different types of rewards (toys, treats, praise) depending on what your dog is most motivated by.