Positive Reinforcement: The Scientifically-Backed Way to Successfully Train Your Dog

Training your dog is an important part of responsible pet parentship. Not only does it keep your pup safe, but it also provides them with mental stimulation and strengthens the bond you share. We know that for many pet parents, training your dog feels like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be! In fact, there’s a scientifically-backed way to successfully train your dog called positive reinforcement training.

What is positive
reinforcement training?

Positive reinforcement is a training method that focuses on
rewarding positive behavior. With this technique, you never punish your dog for
doing something undesirable. Instead, you ignore or redirect that behavior and
only reward them for performing the positive behavior.

This technique has become the preferred training method for many
pet parents for a number of reasons:

  • Reason #1: Dogs that are
    trained using positive reinforcement tend to display more obedience than those
    who were trained using other methods.
  • Reason #2: Dogs and pet parents who use positive reinforcement training experience a stronger human-canine bond.
  • Reason #3: Dogs who are
    trained using positive reinforcement tend to have more success learning new
    skills or tricks in the future.

How does positive
reinforcement training work?

Positive reinforcement training sounds simple enough, but there
are a few things that need to be done to ensure that it works.

  • Timing is important: Positive reinforcement only works if the reward is given immediately (we’re talking seconds) after your pet performs the desired behavior. If you wait any longer, there’s a chance that they won’t associate the reward with the correct behavior. For example, if they sit but you wait until they stand up to reward them, they’ll start to associate the reward with standing rather than sitting.
  • Choose short,
    simple commands:
    The best commands are short and easy to understand,
    generally one or two words tops – sit, stay, down, and leave it are good
    examples. When giving the command, say it in a calm, clear voice and try to not
    repeat it more than once. It also helps to choose a visual command that you can
    pair with each of the verbal comments, as dogs also learn by watching our body
    language.
  • Use it
    consistently:
    When training, you’ll want to start by rewarding them every time
    they perform the desired behavior. This will mean an extended period of walking
    around with treats in all of your bags and pockets, but we promise it’s worth
    it. After your pet is performing the behavior consistently, you can switch to
    intermittent reinforcement where you continue to praise them each time but only
    give a reward every few times. Just avoid stopping the continuous reward
    schedule too soon or your pet might feel frustrated and confused.
  • Find the right
    reward:
    In positive reinforcement training, the reward plays a key role.
    This is because a high-value reward is more likely to encourage your dog to
    repeat a positive behavior than one they aren’t excited about.

How do I choose the
right reward to use in positive reinforcement training?

We know that finding the right reward is a critical part of
positive reinforcement training, but how do you know what to choose? The
easiest way to determine what the reward should be is by observing your pet and
pinpointing what makes them happiest.

Most dogs are highly food motivated, so treats and other foods make excellent rewards. If this sounds like your pup, try picking up a few packs of Freshpet dog treats and use them exclusively for training. Using a variety of treats will keep things interesting for your dog and add an element of excitement because they don’t know which treat they’re going to get. Each treat can be cut into pea-sized pieces or smaller to make sure you don’t overdo it during training sessions.

If you have one of those rare dogs that don’t get excited about food, try using a toy, petting, or a brief moment of play as a reward instead. It may take some experimenting but eventually, you’ll find a reward that encourages your pup to consistently repeat the desired behavior.

Whether you’re a brand-new pet parent or looking to expand your dog’s repertoire of commands, we hope that you find success with this scientifically-backed training method!

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