What is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?

One thing we talk about a lot at Tips For New Dog Owners is positive reinforcement dog training. You might know that positive reinforcement involves treats and praise. You’ll find there’s more to it than that, though. Understand what is positive reinforcement dog training and start changing your dog’s behavior today.

Positive reinforcement dog training is a fairly simple concept. It involves pointing out when your dog’s behavior is correct and rewarding him for that behavior. It is opposed to other training methods that point out incorrect behavior with punishment. Read on to learn more about positive reinforcement dog training.

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training in Action

Dog trainers love it. Behaviorists swear by it. And I know it works. Why? I was able to train my dog to come, sit, lie down and drop it in just a few short months with positive reinforcement dog training. It took a lot of patience (and a lot of chicken breast, Polar Bear’s favorite treat), but you can teach old dogs new tricks with positive reinforcement dog training.

Positive reinforcement works with a marker for the right behavior and a reward that is enticing to the dog. I used a verbal marker for the right behavior — “good boy,” “smart dog,” “handsome sit.” Some people use clicker training for the marker. The treats I used varied on where we were working and how many distractions were present. He learned to associate the verbal marker with the behavior and the treat. Eventually, we were able to change his behavior and teach him a few basic commands using positive reinforcement dog training.

Teaching Your Dog to Come with Positive Reinforcement Training

I realized that I needed to teach Polar Bear to come after he ran away. I did my research, chatted with a behaviorist and weighed my training options. A friend who is an experienced dog owner promoted a shock collar for training and has had great results using them on her dogs. I wasn’t ready to shock Polar Bear, so I settled on a force free, positive reinforcement training method.

The first command I wanted to teach Polar Bear was “come.” We had a rough start. Even though he was 3 or 4 years old when I adopted him, the only training he had received was housebreaking — and who knows how he learned that.

We started by working in the living room, with minimal distractions. I put him on his longest leash, gave it a tug toward me, and said, “Polar Bear, come.” He ignored me the first several times, but eventually he started getting the hang of it. Each time he came to me after I made the command, I rewarded him both verbally and with treats. We started using diced chicken breast as a training treat.

After he got the hang of coming on the leash — it took about a week of working together on it for 15-20 minutes after dinner every night — we tried it off leash in the living room. Again, I would give the command and reward with praise and treats after each correct recall. He got the hang of it!

From there, when he was coming every time he was called in the living room without distractions, we started adding more distractions into our training sessions. The first distraction I used as turning the TV on when we were working together. The additional sound in our usually quiet home was distracting to him at first — that was the point.

Once Polar Bear mastered “come” with the TV on, we added people into the mix. I would invite friends and family over, and then work on the command with him in their presence. It worked! He got the hang of it and loved showing off his new skills.

We practiced “come” on a leash outside before moving to off-leash training.

After that, we moved to on-leash training sessions outside. There are TONS of distractions in our front lawn — neighbors walking their dogs, squirrels, birds and more. Working outside took some getting used to! Eventually he mastered it and we moved on to the park.

I don’t have a fenced-in yard, so we moved the off-leash part of our reward based training to one of our city’s dog parks. The large, fenced in park is perfect for training and full of distractions. We started with trips early in the morning to avoid the crowd. Off-leash come was difficult and first, but with the right praise and dog treats, Polar Bear nailed it.

Slowly building up distractions is a great way to teach your dog to focus on you, the command and the reward. Dogs learn in these situations with rewards for good behavior and positive reinforcement methods.

Understanding the Treat Hierarchy

When you’re using positive reinforcement dog training, the treats you use to reward your dog should get better as the distractions increase. This is the treat hierarchy I used when training Polar Bear to come:

  • At home with few distractions: Diced chicken breast and dry kibble
  • Outside with few distractions: Training treats
  • Outside at the park with distractions: Turkey bacon, peanut butter flavored soft treats

The treats I used to train Polar Bear increased in value with each situation. The more distractions, the better the treat. Remember, the more often you reward your dog for good behavior, the likelier he is to perform that behavior again.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Other Methods of Dog Training

Positive reinforcement dog training isn’t the only method on the block. You’ll find several other popular methods of dog training available as options for you. These options include:

Polar Bear’s friend Taco was trained using clicker training.
  1. Alpha dog training: Sometimes call dominance training, alpha dog training teaches your dog that you’re the boss. This kind of training implies that your family (including your dog) are a pack, and you are the top dog. This is similar to the social structure wolves and other wild dogs use.
  2. Clicker training: Similar to positive reinforcement training, clicker training relies on sound to reward your dog. When using clicker training, you use a little device (called a clicker) to make a sound when your dog engages in the wanted behavior.
  3. Shock collar training: I considered using this method of training with Polar Bear because a friend has had great luck with it. Shock collar training, sometimes called electronic training, involves putting a collar on your dog that delivers a minor electric shock via remote control when your dog engages in an unwanted, problem behavior. Consider it the opposite of positive reinforcement.
  4. Mirror training: Sometimes called model rival training, mirror training involves the notion that dogs can learn by observation. Doggie see, doggie do. With this method of training, a human or other well-behaved dog serves a model. The dog-in-training sees the behavior displayed, and learns to do it himself by watching.
  5. Relationship-based training: This training method might combine other training styles based on your relationship with your pup. It can be customized and is best practiced with working with a dog trainer or behaviorist. It is important that the owner can read a dog’s body language before engaging in relationship-based training.

Regardless of the method you choose to train your dog, teaching your dogs basic commands can do him a world of good. Do your research and find the right method for you and your pooch.

The Science Behind Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Understanding what is positive reinforcement dog training is like taking a trip back in time to the Psych 101 class you might have snoozed through in college.

Positive reinforcement dog training is a kind of operant conditioning. B.F. Skinner is the psychologist best known for his work with operant conditioning. Skinner’s work proved that operant conditioning is a method of learning that associates rewards and punishments with certain behaviors. Through operant conditioning, a person or animal links a behavior and a consequence. For example, a child might learn that the consequence of touching a hot iron is a burn. A dog can learn that the consequence for coming when called is a treat.

Regardless of the psychology behind why it works, positive reinforcement dog training just works. Learn from my experience with Polar Bear. Now that you understand what is positive reinforcement dog training, you can start teaching your old dog new tricks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *