Dog participating in a dog training class outside

How to Train a Dog With Positive Reinforcement

As a dog owner, you always want your dog to be happy and comfortable. Having a happy dog requires setting boundaries so they know what’s allowed in your home. You can set limits humanely with positive reinforcement dog training.

A staggering 65.1 million households have a dog in the United States, and only 8% of dog owners claim their dog exhibits angelic behaviors. For the rest of us, there’s training to help. Although other training methods exist, positive reinforcement is better for dog welfare. It strengthens the bond between you and your dog, letting you have fun and teach your dog how to behave without fear or punishment.

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a method of dog training that involves adding something — like a treat — when your dog exhibits the desired behavior. Rewarding your dog at the right moment increases the frequency of the behavior, allowing you to train your dog without using fear or punishment.

The word “positive” in dog training means to add something. The concept of positive reinforcement is based on a practice called operant conditioning — a method that uses rewards and punishments to modify behavior. The four quadrants of operant conditioning include:

  • Positive reinforcement: You should focus your dog training efforts on this quadrant. It involves rewarding your dog for desired behaviors and ignoring undesirable ones, like giving them a treat when they sit on command.
  • Positive punishment: In this quadrant, you add something your dog dislikes to discourage unwanted behavior. An example of positive punishment would be a smack.
  • Negative reinforcement: This method involves removing something unpleasant to encourage a behavior, like removing the pressure on a chain when your dog walks quietly at your side.
  • Negative punishment: This quadrant should be your support system when you train your dog with positive reinforcement. It involves removing something your dog likes, such as your attention, a toy or a treat, to limit unwanted behavior. An example of this method is ignoring your dog when he jumps on you.

The Four Pillars of Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement for dogs incorporates several philosophies to keep your dog happy and comfortable as you familiarize them with the rules of your world. This philosophy is based on four pillars of training, including:

  • Using positive reinforcement: Reward a desired behavior and your dog is more likely to repeat it. When you combine this method with negative punishment, you can guide your dog to make the right choices without basing your relationship on fear or pain.
  • Avoiding confrontation, fear and physical punishment: Reprimanding or physically punishing your dog makes them fearful, which, in turn, makes them unpredictable. As a dog lover, you want to build a relationship with your dog using humane methods, so punitive methods are out.
  • Understanding canine dominance: Diagnosing a problem behavior as dominance is often a mistake. Instead, identify the cause and manage the issue with positive reinforcement.
  • Seeing the dog’s point of view: As humans are more mentally complex, we are responsible for communicating in a way dogs can understand, giving them the confidence and tools to provide the desired behaviors.

How to Use Positive Reinforcement

While positive reinforcement may seem simple, it takes some time to understand. Once you get the hang of it, you should start seeing results. Consider the following tips for training your dog with positive reinforcement:

1. Start With a Positive Attitude

When you work with a dog, the most important thing to remember is to set yourself up for success. Training takes time and patience. Each dog learns at their own pace. When you get frustrated, stop until you’re in a better mood.

2. Reward All Positive Behaviors

You can celebrate desired behaviors outside of training sessions. Proactively look for positive behaviors your dog already exhibits and praise or treat them when they occur. You create an association between good behaviors and pleasant outcomes every time.

3. Perfect the Immediate Reward

Positive reinforcement only works when it’s predictable, manageable to reproduce and given immediately after the desired behavior. Your dog needs to know why you’re praising them. If you miss the window, wait until next time.

4. Keep Your Commands Simple

Use short, direct commands to make the process easier for your dog to understand. For example, use “off” instead of “You’re getting fur all over my bed.”

5. Eliminate Distractions

In the early stages of training, your dog will be easily distracted. Again, set yourselves up for success by training in a quiet area until they understand the basics.

6. Be Consistent

Consistency is the primary ingredient in positive reinforcement training. If you’re training your dog to sleep in their doggy bed, putting them in there one night and allowing them on your bed the next will undo everything you’re trying to achieve. Ensure the whole family understands the parameters so your dog gets the same messages from everyone in the house.

7. Use a Clicker

The sound a clicker makes is easy for your dog to interpret. Press it as your dog exhibits the desired behavior, marking it in their mind. Click as your dog does what you want, and give him a treat or praise immediately after.

8. Make Training Fun and Engaging

We all learn better when we’re having fun, so get excited when your dog gets it right. If they’re distracted or tired, bring the session to a close. Keep your sessions short to ensure your dog is engaged. End each session on a positive note so your dog is excited for next time.

Keep your sessions short to ensure your dog is engaged.

Types of Rewards

Dogs respond to different rewards depending on their personalities. Varying your rewards keeps training exciting and strengthens your bond. Consider the following rewards:

  • Food: Use “high-value” treats — snacks your dog loves. Keep food rewards healthy and only give small amounts for training.
  • Toys: Turn the reward into a game of tug or fetch to keep your dog engaged.
  • Attention: Something as simple as a pat on the head could be enough for your dog. Get enthusiastic when your dog does what you want, but don’t get them so excited they can’t concentrate afterward.
  • Verbal praise: Have you ever met a dog that dislikes the phrase “Good dog?” Verbal praise is an excellent way of helping your dog understand the difference between wanted and unwanted behaviors.

The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Positive reinforcement has significant benefits for your dog and your home, some of which include:

Communicating Effectively

Dogs want to please us, but sometimes they need help figuring out how. Positive reinforcement clarifies what you want from your dog without making them fearful. The more you praise your dog and show them what you want, the more excited they are to give it to you.

Strengthening Your Bond

As you learn together, you’ll strengthen your bond as your dog knows what is acceptable in your home. Instead of just responding to commands, you and your dog develop a mutual understanding.

Having Fun

Positive reinforcement removes frustration and fear from the situation when working with your dog. Figuring out what you want is also mentally stimulating— they get bonus treats and other rewards to keep them interested.

Getting Results

With up to 85% of dogs exhibiting at least one problem behavior, fear and punishment are likely to exacerbate these issues. Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are less likely to show fearful, aggressive or attention-seeking behavior than those trained with punishment-based methods.

Enroll Your Dog in One of Our Training Programs!

Positive reinforcement is best for your dog’s welfare and happiness, but it can take some finessing to get the results you want. Off Leash K9 Training Services specializes in positive reinforcement for dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds. You can enjoy one-on-one classes at Off Leash K9 Training Maryland to get to know your dog and learn the correct training methods for a happy, harmonious home. Alternatively, enroll your dog in our boarding training program, during which our professionals will instill the basics.

Contact us today to learn more about positive reinforcement for your dog, and let the bond with your dog be off-leash.

Enroll Your Dog in One of Our Training Programs


Posted in Blog, Dog Training.