Caitlin UltimoTraining / Training Tips

Using Positive Reinforcement to Train Your Pet

As celebrity dog trainers and hundreds of books claim that they can be the magical solution to a well-trained animal, there are in fact many ways to train your pet. But while aggressive or extreme techniques may get results at first, they can cause negative long-term consequences. Instead, what really works is consistency and positive reinforcement.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

With positive reinforcement, you use some kind of reward to reinforce the behaviors you want to encourage. For instance, if you’re training or clicker training your pup to sit on command, give him a reward only when he sits. That way, he’ll associate good things with good behavior and will be more apt to repeat it.

Different dogs respond to different rewards. Some of the most common forms of positive reinforcement include:

• Treats: Many dogs are food-driven, and especially love dog treats. If this sounds like your friend, using treats as a reward can be a great way to train your pet. Make sure to figure treats into her daily diet, or even use pieces of her kibble. Dispense them quickly to coincide with the good behavior so she learns to connect the two.

• Petting: While some dogs respond to food, others react best to loving attention from you. When your dog is in a snuggly mood, encourage him to do the behaviors you want him to do. When he succeeds, pet and cuddle him as a reward.

• Play: Games and playtime are a fun way to reinforce good behavior. As soon as your pet does something you want, start a game of tug of war or fetch. As you play, you can also work on commands like “leave it.”

• Praise: All dogs love to hear that you’re pleased with them. Verbal praise, in an excited and happy voice, is a great reward for good behaviors.

Why is negative reinforcement discouraged?

Negative reinforcement relies on punishments to discourage unwanted actions. Common approaches include prong collars, shock collars or gentle swatting, usually on the rump with a rolled up newspaper.

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), negative reinforcement should never be used as a first-line training technique, only to be used in extreme situations. When negative reinforcement is used as the primary training method, dogs can become fearful of their own owners. And when they associate discomfort or pain with their master, they can stop listening to commands and even become aggressive.

Positive reinforcement strengthens your bond

By rewarding your pet instead of punishing him, you help establish and build your bond. Your dog recognizes you as a source of food, affection and praise. Because he associates those good things with you, he respects you and bonds more closely. As his natural leader, he will be more likely to follow your commands.