A man holding his pet
Positive reinforcement is one of the best methods for training a dog. But what does it really mean and how can you make it work?
People sometimes refer to positive reinforcement dog training as force-free dog training, positive dog training, clicker training, even science-based dog training. Some of these terms relate to a broader dog training philosophy and specific methods.
But positive reinforcement is also a technical word with a particular definition. Let’s first get the technical definition out of the way.
Positive Reinforcement in Dog’s Training: Explained
Positive reinforcement is quite an effective way to train dogs and other pets.
Adding something at once after a behavior occurs makes the rate of the behavior increase.
Theoretically speaking, you can break the term down into two parts. Reinforcement means the behavior either continues or goes up in frequency. (However, if the behavior went down instead, it’s not really reinforcement).
For instance, when you command the dog to sit, the dog sits, and in return, you reward him with a treat (something is added) if the dog sits next time when you ask (the behavior was reinforced).
How Does Positive Reinforcement Work?
Food: For most, while training a dog or a puppy, food is considered the best reward to use. That’s because most dogs love food, besides it’s efficient because you can deliver it immediately.
In practice, food works as the best option for most everyday dog training conditions. You can deliver it relatively quickly (ponder how much time it takes to play a game of tug, compared to how long it takes your furry friend to gobble a treat). That means you can do another repetition promptly.
Games: playtime is also sometimes used as a reward in dog training—for instance, a game of fetch or tug. You may even have seen some working or agility dogs be rewarded with a game of tug. However, play can get in the way of what you`ve been trying to reinforce primarily. Hence, it is best to keep a schedule and focus on the primary task when reinforcing through games.
Petting and praise: This is highly recommended as a positive reinforcement reward. But as a pet owner, you have to think about it from the dog’s perspective. One study found dogs are not really interested in praise, especially if they`re being trained to adopt a new behavior.
For instance, if a treat always follows ‘good boy,’ then they will learn that you will follow the cue with their favorite treat. However, if this isn`t the case, then “good boy” cannot be used as a cue to teach any behavior to the dog.
Most dogs like petting or cuddling, but the same scientists found dogs prefer food over petting as a reward in dog training. And to tell you the truth, other studies compared food to petting as an incentive in a dog training situation. They also found food leads to better results.
Using positive reinforcement to train your dog implies that you reward the behaviors you like and ignore the behaviors you do not like.
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