Train Your Dog With Positive Reinforcement

Madelene Hissom · Jan 5, 2021

Training a dog may seem like a daunting task. However, there are a range of strategies you can use to make training not only easy, but also fun for both you and your dog. One of the most important is positive reinforcement.  

What is positive reinforcement?  

The term refers to a type of training that works by associating a positive reward--in this case, a delicious dog treat--with a given behavior, such as sitting, using the bathroom outside, or “shaking hands.” Over time, as you consistently issue a command and reward your dog with treats for following it, they will come to associate the command with a delicious treat--and will carry out the behavior because of this positive association. This is the main type of training used to build pets’ positive associations with different commands, and it’s often crucial for things like potty-training, making puppies less rowdy, and just having fun with your dog.  

Speed, Distribution, and Timing of Rewards 

When using positive reinforcement to train your dog, you’ll need to consider two key factors about your reward: first, the speed at which you give them; second how exactly you distribute the treats; and third, your timing. 

A dog’s natural curiosity means that the world around them is always full of “rewards” for their attention. They might enjoy sniffing new scents, for example, or following a flash of movement. Especially at the outset of training, you’ll need to make sure that you give enough treats to outweigh these natural rewards and keep your dog focused on you!  

In addition, one tricky part of positive reinforcement training is making sure that you toss the treat to your dog in a way that makes it clear how immediate the reward is for their good behavior. If you hold the treat out so your dog has to come to you, instead of tossing it toward him, he’ll likely end up associating the treat with walking over to you. (This might work for a “here!” command--but it would backfire for sitting, for example.)  

You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve got the timing down. You want it to be clear to your dog exactly which behavior you’re rewarding him or her for. If you wait too long after the desired behavior to give your treat, your dog will be less likely to associate the behavior (sitting, staying, using the bathroom, etc.) and the logic behind positive reinforcement will fail.  

These principles are the key behind clicker training, a variant on positive reinforcement training that uses a small mechanical device to make your reward more precise. For example, if you were training your dog to sit with a clicker, you would click at the exact moment your dog sits down.  

Choosing the Right Reward 

When it comes to positive reinforcement, not all rewards are created equally. You’ll want to make sure that you’re using a treat that your dog actually enjoys. If not, there will be no positive association between the desired behavior and the reward--because your dog won’t view the treat as something positive.  

At the same time, it’s best to have high-quality treats that are safe to consume in relatively large amounts (although you should always look out for overfeeding) and that have healthy ingredients. Positive reinforcement takes time, so whichever treat you choose, your dog will likely end up eating quite a bit of over time. The same rules apply to toys that you use for positive reinforcement. Making sure that your rewards are healthy, safe, and high-quality will make the positive reinforcement process better for your dog.  

If you’re unsure which treats are best, opt for classics like gullet sticks. Natural Farm’s gullet sticks are safe, healthy, and made of 100% digestible beef that is good for sensitive stomachs, making it a great choice for lengthier dog training processes. Cut them up into small pieces to give as a training reward. With the perfect treat and an enthusiastic attitude, positive reinforcement training can be a blast for you and your pup!