Positive Reinforcement

Positive Reinforcement: What is it, and how do you use it?

If you are like most people you’d rather be praised than punished, right? That’s the idea behind positive reinforcement! When you have a bad experience, you’ll try to avoid it from happening again. But if you have a good experience doing something, you’re likely to want to repeat that experience. Dogs are the same way! When your dog does something you want, giving him something he enjoys like food or toys will make him want to do it again. Many older training techniques relied on punishment which can make the dog want to avoid training or even worse avoid you, the owner.

Using positive reinforcement makes training fun for you and your dog. Each time you reward your dog you make him more likely to repeat what he was doing when you rewarded him. You will also strengthen your relationship with your dog because you have shown him what makes you happy and have made him happy as well. A win-win situation!

A lure is extremely useful when teaching new tasks, overcoming uncertainty or fear in the dog, and to increase the dog’s focus on you. A dog that is uncertain about a given task or working on a piece of equipment or unusual flooring can often be lured successfully. By using a lure to make yourself and your actions of greater interest to the dog, a lure can be a quick way to establish a relationship. A lure is offered before a behavior is elicited and either directly assists in guiding/shaping the behavior or
minimizing/eliminating the stumbling blocks of confusion or fear.

A reward is a chance to say, “Thanks – I really like it when you do that!” This can range from a quiet thanks or pat on the head, to an exuberant dance of delight or a shower of treats. A reward is always unexpected, unseen and comes after the appropriate behavior or response.

Choose lures/rewards from a variety of things your dog loves. Food is one thing that most dogs love and is easy to carry around in your pocket. Toys, petting, and praise can also be positive reinforcers. Verbal praise is always good, but in very distracting situations may not be motivating enough for some dogs. Toys are great too, but can take more time because you have to stop and let your dog play. Using food is usually the most convenient for luring & rewarding, but what if your dog doesn’t like treats? Experiment with types of treats – different types of deli meats, chicken, steak, cheese, or different commercially prepared treats. Most dogs have a favorite food; you just have to be creative to discover what it is. Or try hand-feeding part of your dog’s daily food. Before you put your dog’s food bowl down, ask him to sit and offer him a piece of kibble.