Positive reinforcement in dog training is a popular and effective strategy to use when training and motivating your dog. The term and concept can be confusing to some new trainers, however, so it is important that you fully understand what positive reinforcement means before you begin applying it during canine training sessions.
What Is Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a training method that works by rewarding the desired behavior. When the dog exhibits the desirable behavior, he will be rewarded with something positive (usually food or praise). The reward makes it more likely that the dog will repeat the same desirable behavior in the future.
The term positive means that a certain stimulus will be presented as soon as the desired behavior is exhibited. The presentation of the stimulus (reward) is what makes it a positive experience for your dog, not the specific food or toy that is used as the reward. For example, you might use a food reward such as hot dog slices to train your dog to go into his crate, but once he has learned the behavior, you can switch to using praise as a reward instead.
The concept of positive reinforcement doesn’t mean that every time your dog exhibits the desired behavior there will be a reward. You want to reward often enough so that the dog learns what is expected of him, but you also don’t want the reward to happen so frequently that it becomes expected.
Why Does Positive Reinforcement Work?
Positive reinforcement makes your dog feel good by giving him something he likes, which is why it works. Dogs are motivated by things that make them feel good (just like humans) and they will work harder if the result of their work is enjoyable. Beyond simply making your dog feel good though, positive reinforcement has many benefits that make it the foundation for most modern training methods.
One main benefit of positive reinforcement in dog training is that it makes training easier for both you and your dog. Dog training can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but when you use positive reinforcement to train your dog, he can easily understand what you are asking him to do. He will feel good about the training sessions and won’t become frustrated or distracted while learning new behaviors.
Positive reinforcement also works more quickly than negative reinforcement or punishment in some cases. If behavior is new to your dog, he will usually require more repetitions to understand what you are asking him to do. If those repetitions include lots of positive reinforcement for good behavior, then the training process can go much faster than if you were using aversive stimuli such as corrections or food withholding.
How Can It Be Used to Train Dogs
You can use positive reinforcement to train your dog in almost any situation. One of the most common applications is during crate training, but you can also reinforce good behavior for house training, leash walking, recall, or obedience training.
For example, if you are using positive reinforcement to house train your dog, then every time he eliminates outside you will give him a treat and make a big fuss over how good he is. You can use the same technique to reward your dog when he comes when called, walks politely on leash, or any other behavior that you want to encourage.
What to Avoid When Using Positive Reinforcement
One potential problem with positive reinforcement is that it can be easy for owners to overdo the use of food as a reward. While food rewards are very effective, they should not make up more than half of your total training rewards during a typical session. You may want to consider using a variety of different rewards in a variety of different circumstances rather than rely on food alone.
Another concern that some people have is that their dog might become dependent on food as a reward for good behavior. This is possible, but it’s also possible to over-correct for this by withholding all rewards from your dog when he doesn’t seem interested in them.