Positive Reinforcement for Dogs: Training with treats and praise

Positive Reinforcement for Dogs: Training with treats and praise

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Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in dog training that focuses on rewarding desired behaviors rather than punishing unwanted ones. It involves using treats, praise, toys, or other rewards to reinforce behaviors that you want to see repeated. Professional dog trainers and dog owners have widely adopted this approach as it is more humane, builds a stronger bond between the dog and owner, and leads to long-lasting behavioral changes.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Negative Reinforcement

Positive Reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding desired behaviors with something positive, such as treats or praise, to encourage repetition. By linking the desired action with a reward, dogs learn preferred behaviors faster, making them more likely to happen again. Giving immediate rewards when the target behavior is performed strengthens the link between the action and the positive result.

Some of the examples of positive reinforcement are:

  • When a dog sits on command, they are immediately given a small, high-value treat. This rewards the desired "sit" behavior and encourages the dog to repeat it in the future to earn more treats.
  • As the dog walks calmly on a loose leash, the owner says "Good dog!" in an upbeat tone. The praise serves as a positive reinforcement for the desirable leash-walking behavior.

  • After the dog comes when called, the owner engages the dog in a fun game of fetch or provides pets and belly rubs. The opportunity to play and receive attention reinforces the recall command.

Negative Reinforcement:

Negative reinforcement in dog training involves removing or avoiding a stimulus when a desired behavior is shown. This helps strengthen desired behaviors by letting dogs escape or avoid unpleasant situations, encouraging them to repeat the behavior. Unlike punishment, negative reinforcement focuses on boosting wanted behaviors by eliminating discomfort.

Some of the examples of negative reinforcement are:

  • When the dog pulls on the leash, the owner applies gentle pressure. As soon as the dog stops pulling and walks calmly, the leash pressure is released. This teaches the dog that walking without pulling results in the removal of the aversive leash pressure.
  •  If the dog jumps up on people, a loud noise (like a whistle or shake can) is made. As soon as the dog stops jumping, the noise stops. The dog learns that jumping results in an unpleasant noise, which is removed when the jumping stops.
  • When trimming the dog's nails, the dog may try to pull their paw away. By releasing the paw as soon as the dog stops resisting, the dog learns that allowing the nail trim to happen results in the unpleasant handling being stopped.

While both types of reinforcement can be effective in dog training, positive reinforcement is widely preferred for its emphasis on rewards, encouragement, and building a positive relationship between dogs and their owners.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training offers numerous benefits for both dogs and their owners. Below are some of them:

  • Strengthens Bond: By focusing on rewards and praise, positive reinforcement training strengthens the bond between dogs and their owners, fostering trust and cooperation.

  • Builds Confidence: Successes rewarded through positive reinforcement boost a dog's confidence, encouraging them to try new behaviors and overcome challenges.

  • Enhances Communication: Clear communication between owner and dog is facilitated through positive reinforcement, leading to better understanding and cooperation.

  • Faster Learning: Dogs are more likely to engage and learn new behaviors when the training process is positive and rewarding. Positive reinforcement training allows dogs to learn at their own pace, without the pressure or fear of punishment.

  • Reduces Stress: Positive reinforcement training reduces stress and anxiety in dogs compared to traditional training methods that rely on punishment, creating a more relaxed and enjoyable training environment.

Types of Rewards in Positive Reinforcement

In positive reinforcement training, rewards help in motivating and reinforcing desired behaviors. Various types of rewards can be utilized to train dogs effectively :

1. Treats :

Treats are the most commonly used rewards in positive reinforcement training. They come in flavors of varieties, sizes, and textures to cater to different preferences and dietary needs. High-quality, tasty treats serve as powerful motivators for dogs, inspiring them to perform desired behaviors in exchange for a delicious reward.

Here is a collection of all natural and healthy treats you can choose as a reward for your dog. 

2. Praise:

Verbal praise and affection are invaluable rewards in positive reinforcement training. Dogs thrive on praise and encouragement from their owners, making verbal cues such as "good boy" or "well done" highly effective in reinforcing desired behaviors.

3. Physical Affection:

Physical affection can significantly enhance positive reinforcement in dogs by reinforcing the bond between the owner and the pet. Actions such as petting, scratching, hugs, or belly rubs can increase the affection between the owner and the dog. This strengthens the desired behavior and encourages its repetition in the future.

Effective Techniques for Positive Reinforcement Training

While positive reinforcement training is relatively straightforward, employing certain techniques can make it more effective:

1. Timing is Key:

Timing is crucial in positive reinforcement training. Treats or praise should be delivered promptly after your dog performs a desired behavior to let your dog understand what's it being rewarded for. 

2. Identify Effective Rewards: 

Observe to determine which rewards your dog finds most motivating, whether that's food, toys, or attention. Experiment with different options to find the best fit and use that as a reward to reinforce other actions.

3. Consistency Matters:

 Positive reinforcement training requires consistency and patience, as it may take time for your dog to learn new behaviors. Stick with it, and celebrate small successes along the way.

4. Keep it Short:

Training sessions should be kept short and focused to maintain the dog's attention and motivation. Brief, frequent sessions are more effective than long, tedious ones, as they prevent boredom and maximize learning opportunities.

5. Use High-Value Rewards:

High-value rewards, such as high-protein and healthy training treats, can be particularly effective in motivating and reinforcing desired behaviors. These nutrient-dense snacks trigger a strong positive response, appealing to dogs' natural preferences. These rewards should be reserved for particularly challenging tasks or behaviors to increase their value and impact.

6. Use Positive Language: 

Avoid scolding or punishing your dog. Instead focus on reinforcing the behaviors you want to see more and use a positive, encouraging tone and celebrate your dog's achievements.


In conclusion, positive reinforcement training offers a humane and effective approach to teaching dogs desired behaviors rather than punishing undesirable ones. By using treats, praise, and other meaningful rewards, this method helps build a stronger bond between dogs and their owners, reduces stress and anxiety, and leads to long-lasting behavioral changes.

Whether you're teaching basic obedience commands or working on more complex tricks and skills, positive reinforcement training can be an effective tool for dog owners. For a comprehensive guide on training your dog thoroughly, including advanced techniques and troubleshooting tips, check out our article on "How to Completely Train Your Dog".

By following the key principles and techniques outlined in this article, you can help your furry friend learn and grow in a positive, rewarding, and enjoyable way.

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