Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Methods



Dogs are pack animals and very social creatures. It’s very important to their health & well-being that all of our interactions with them are positive. Training your dog is every bit as important to his well-being as health care.

The majority of dogs that are turned over to shelters are given up because they are exhibiting behaviors that their owner has been unable to correct. The dogs are given up out of frustration. A well trained dog is a joy to be around. They are more fun to take out in public & to have people in to enjoy him in your home. Dogs are looking out for number one and they will do whatever works for them. Using reward based positive reinforcement training will be fun for both you and your dog. All you need to do is 1) to communicate to your dog how he’s doing on winning the prizes and 2) have names for all the different things he has to do.

Your dog, when presented with a signal or cue like the word “sit”, first must identify if the signal means anything to him (classical conditioning) and then, and this is very important, must work out the odds of the suggested behavior winning a prize (operant conditioning)! You will give your dog the signal or cue for the behavior you desire. When he performs the behavior, immediately mark that behavior with a word (such as “yes”) or the click from a clicker. Follow with the reinforcer of choice. Very quickly your dog will make the connection that the marker (yes or clicker) means “WOO HOO! I am getting the prize!”

A key element to reward based positive reinforcement training is to pick a reinforcer that your dog loves! Things which are likely reinforcers for dogs are as follows:

    1. Food
    2. Access to other dogs
    3. Access to outdoors and interesting smells on the ground
    4. Attention from people and access to people, especially after isolation periods
    5. Initiation of play or other enjoyed activity such as fetch, cuddling, tug-of-war, keep-away, etc.

Those are the big five, although your dog may have other quirks which you can use. Simply start doling out his favorite reinforcer only when he does what you want.

Behavior is under the control of its consequences; law of effect. There are four kinds of consequences:

    1. Good thing starts (positive reinforcement)
    2. Good thing ends (negative punishment)
    3. Bad thing starts (positive punishment)
    4. Bad thing ends (negative reinforcement)

To be effective, all consequences must be immediate. These consequences will end up being associated with other things present at the moment of the consequences, as well as affecting the probability of the behavior.

Dogs are expert at reading the environment to know which consequences are likely to occur for which behaviors in any given situation.

An old dog really can learn new tricks and it is never too late to train your dog. If you need assistance, books and videos are available or consult a professional trainer. Just remember, make your training sessions fun for you and your best friend. And, as always, I welcome your phone calls and emails and will be happy to help you.


Renee Jones-Lewis is a certified professional dog trainer, having received instruction from canine behaviorist Dr. Pamela Reid, plus nationally acclaimed trainers: Patricia McConnell, Pia Silvani, and Jean Donaldson, to name a few. She serves as a Pet Marketing and Canine Specialist for JeffersPet and JeffersPet.com.

Questions about this article, training in general or non-emergent health concerns are welcome. Renee can be reached most days from 9am – 5pm Central Time (Mon-Fri) at 1-800-JEFFERS (533-3377) ext 381 or by email rsjones@jefferspet. com.

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