Just Say Yes to Reward Based Training

Are you wondering, "Why should I use reward-based training?"  Reward based training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do again. Because the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement or reward-based training is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog's behavior.  Rewarding your dog for good behavior sounds pretty simple, and it is! But to practice the technique effectively, you need to follow some basic guidelines.

1.) Positive reinforcement can include food treats, praise, petting, or a favorite toy or game. Since most dogs are highly food-motivated, food treats work especially well for training.

2.) When your pet is learning a new behavior, reward him every time he does the behavior.  Once your pet has reliably learned the behavior, you can to switch to intermittent reinforcement, in which you continue with praise, but gradually reduce the number of times he receives a treat for doing the desired behavior.  Caution! Don't decrease the rewards too quickly. You don't want your dog to become frustrated.  By understanding positive reinforcement, you'll see that you're not forever bound to carry a pocketful of goodies. Your dog will soon be working for your verbal praise, because he wants to please you and knows that, occasionally, he'll get a treat, too.

3.) Correct timing of the reward is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur within 1 or 2 seconds or your pet may not associate it with the proper action. For example, if you have your dog sit but reward him after he's stood back up, he'll think he's being rewarded for standing up.

4.) Keep commands short and uncomplicated. The most commonly used dog commands are:
  • sit
  • down (which means "lie down")
  • watch me
  • wait
  • come
  • with me (which means "walk close to my side")
  • leave it
5.)  But when do I use positive reinforcement?  Use positive reinforcement to teach your dog commands and it's also a good way of reinforcing good behavior. You may have your dog sit:
  • before letting him out the door (which helps prevent door-darting)
  • before petting him (which helps prevent jumping on people)
  • before feeding him (which helps teach him good meal-time manners).
  • Give him a pat or a "Good dog" for lying quietly by your feet, or slip a treat into a toy when he's chewing it instead of your shoe.  But, be careful that you don't inadvertently use positive reinforcement to reward unwanted behaviors. For example, if you let your dog outside every time he barks at a noise in the neighborhood, you're giving him a reward (access to the yard) for behavior (barking) that you want to discourage.