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Positive reinforcement dog training is the most popular approach used by professional and amateur trainers alike, and for good reason. Not only does it make training a fun and enjoyable experience for your pet, but it also helps them build trust in you over time. By rewarding positive behavior, you reduce your dog’s anger and frustration and help them find a sense of pride in their corrected behavior.
How to Use Positive Reinforcement Training
The goal is to develop a dog who thinks and works cooperatively along with their human as a part of a team, instead of a dog who simply obeys commands.
STEP 1: Adopt the right attitude
Like any long-lasting method, there will be challenges along the way, and you'll have to use a LOT of patience in the process. Dogs can sense your demeanor and body language, so if you find yourself getting aggravated, it's OK to stop, reset and try again when you're in a better mood. The more enjoyable the training, the more eager your dog will be to learn.
STEP 2: Acknowledge the good behaviors your dog is already doing
Actively watch for positive behaviors your dog already does, and let them know that you approve with some praise and a little treat. Creating that association between approval and reward will help your dog look for new ways to win your admiration.
STEP 3: Start with simple actions and associations
Teaching your dog to sit is a great way to see early results. Start by holding a treat up close to your dog's face with the verbal command "sit." Your dog will naturally sit as the treat gets closer to their face, but it is only when they sit that they receive the reward. Repeat this move as many times as needed (treat to face, "sit," reward) until your dog begins to put all the pieces together. With each successful reward, be sure to shower your little friend with lots of praise.
When Does Positive Reinforcement Come in Handy?
This is a simple one to start with because you can simply start with the inverse of a traditional negative reinforcement approach. Rather than punishing a puppy for having an accident in your home, gently guide your dog outside. Pay attention to your dog outside, and when they eventually do their inevitable business outside, reward them with praise and a treat.
When it comes to reinforcement training, timing is everything. Your pet may follow a positive behavior with a negative one, so make sure you're immediately rewarding your furry friend to let them know what actions you'd like to see more of. With consistency, your dog will find joy and excitement in showing you how well they can obey your wishes.
Learning new tricks
Many pet behavior issues (i.e., chewing shoes, digging holes, clawing furniture, etc.) stem from boredom, so it's not a bad idea to have you or other family members keep your dog busy by teaching a useful or entertaining trick.
We've covered clicker training before as a form of positive reinforcement training that can slowly build your pet's association between your verbal command and their expected behavior. Start with basic movements or tasks and — with enough patience — you can build onto those actions to create more complex tricks over time.
When Should I Give Treats as a Reward?
Rewards should be given for playing with toys and being relaxed when you handle her, no matter the age. Consider rewarding with Hill’s Science Diet Treats. They taste great and you can choose from a wide variety of nutritional formulas to meet your dog’s special needs.
Setting Your Dog Up for Success
Done correctly positive reinforcement training shouldn't just be fun for your dog, it should be fun for you as well! Remember why you decided to get a dog in the first place and use training time as a way for the two of you to bond and each other's company. If you keep training sessions short and enjoyable, your dog will soon be offering you good behaviors in the hopes of getting rewards, and you're sure to get a smile out of the dog's eagerness to learn.