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What is positive reinforcement in dog training?

Dog owner with her dog learning high five advice

Positive reinforcement is a method of dog training

© Shutterstock

Training is an important part of your dog’s life and teaches them basic manners while also providing them with valuable exercise and mental enrichment.

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 16/08/2020, 17:00

Positive reinforcement in dog training uses trust and communication to help create a happy, balanced and well-behaved dog while strengthening your relationship with your dog.

What is positive reinforcement training?

Positive reinforcement dog training is a method of associative learning that involves teaching your dog good behaviour according to the consequences their behaviour causes. It is a reward-based training that involves giving your dog praise, treats or playtime when they are behaving in a way that you like and will, therefore, be more likely to behave in this positive way again. Using positive reinforcement doesn’t mean your dog will simply get away with bad behaviour or be able to do what they please. Your dog will instead learn to give reliable, positive-trained responses to your cues.

Does positive dog training work? 

Positive reinforcement in dog training is a very effective way of teaching your dog the positive behaviours you want from them. It has become an increasingly popular form of dog obedience training especially as it doesn’t just create a well-trained dog but also the dog can keep their positive spirit.

How can you train your dog with positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement in dog training uses praise, treats, oral cues, clickers, toys and even dog-friendly games to help correct bad habits, modify behaviour and teach them (and you) new tricks.

  1. Have the right attitude: Patience is very important in all dog training and you need to be in the right frame of mind. Your dog will be able to pick up on your behaviour and body language, so if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break and try again when you are in a better mood.
  2. Acknowledge your dog’s good behaviours: Watch out for any positive behaviours that your dog already displays and let them know that you are happy with this behaviour by giving them praise and a little treat. Creating an association between behaviour, approval and reward will encourage your dog to find new ways to win your approval.
  3. Start simply with easy associations: A great way to start is by teaching your dog to sit. Hold up a treat close to their face and say, “sit”. Your dog will likely sit as you put the treat nearer to their face. However, it is only when they eventually sit that they get the reward. Repeat this until your dog can link it all together. With each reward, you should shower your four-legged friend with praise.

What is the best training method for dogs?

Many new dog owners prefer positive reinforcement because it’s considered to be a kinder way to train a dog. Alternatives such as traditional dominance training techniques take a more negative approach and assume that the pup will want to dominate the trainer. This dog training method involves things like shock collars or correcting a dog from pulling on the lead by yanking it to encourage the dog to come to heel.

What are the 7 basic dog commands?

When you get a new dog, whether a young pup or an adult, they will likely need some obedience training. A well-behaved dog should respond to seven specific commands to help them stay safe and be a good canine citizen:

  1. Sit
  2. Down
  3. Stay
  4. Come
  5. Heel
  6. Off
  7. No

How do I tell my dog no?

Most people tend to use the word “No”, but many dog trainers believe that this involves negative punishment and can be a harmful way to train dogs. Your dog essentially just wants your approval. Instead of constantly saying “No” to your dog or raising your voice at them, you will likely have more success if you teach your dog a no signal which tells them to immediately stop whatever they are doing when they here it. A good command to use is “Leave”. For example:

  • Have your dog’s favourite dog treats to hand so you’ll get their full attention
  • Have your dog respond to you by saying “Walk” or “Sit” so their focus is entirely on you. 
  • Create some kind of diversion or activity that your dog is likely to want to be involved in, such as a piece of food laying on the floor.
  • Lead your dog near to the piece of food. As they look at it or move towards it, say “Leave” and offer the dog a reward for turning towards you and leaving the distraction alone. Make sure you also give them praise.
  • Keep practising this exercise and make it increasingly more difficult by distracting your dog in different ways and in different locations.

How much does it cost to have a dog professionally trained?

The cost of professional dog training can depend on where you live in the UK and whether you want dog training classes with other dogs and dog owners or one to one sessions and home visits. A seven-week puppy training course can cost around £82. Home visits from a qualified dog trainer can start from around £40 per hour. 

Training with positive reinforcement

When it is done correctly, positive reinforcement training should be fun for both you and your dog. Keep in mind why you wanted to have a dog in the first place and use training as an opportunity for you to bond with your furry friend and enjoy each other’s company. If you focus on keeping training sessions short but fun, your dog will soon be on their best behaviour in the hope of getting your approval (and some tasty treats!).

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