Unlocking the Secret to a Well-Behaved Dog: Positive Reinforcement Training

When it comes to dog training, there are many methods out there. However, positive reinforcement training has gained popularity in recent years due to its effectiveness and humane approach. In this blog post, we will explore what positive reinforcement training is, its benefits, how to get started, when to use it, and types of rewards you can offer your furry friend.

What is Positive Reinforcement Training?

Positive reinforcement training is a method that focuses on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. This approach involves reinforcing desired behavior through rewards. The rewards can include food treats, praise, petting, toys, or anything that your dog finds rewarding. The idea is to make good behavior more likely to happen in the future by associating it with something positive.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training has many benefits for both you and your dog. Some of the benefits include:

  • A deeper, richer bond
  • Better communication and understanding of one another
  • Building a positive association around humans in general
  • It’s safe for kids to engage in

With aversive-based training and debunked dominance/alpha training, the end result is fearful, anxious dogs who have learned not to fully trust their humans. The best-case scenario is learned helplessness, and the worst case is a bite that happens one day “out of nowhere.” When we train our dogs with compassion and empathy, we get a win/win situation. We get happy dogs who are well-adjusted and have learned to thrive in our world of human rules while still maintaining their individual spirit.

Getting Started with Positive Reinforcement Training

Basic Cues to Teach Your Dog

Before you start training your dog, it’s important to teach them basic cues that will make the training process easier. Here are some fundamental cues to teach your dog:


This cue is essential for controlling your dog’s behavior and can be used in many situations. To teach your dog to sit, hold a treat above their nose and move it up and back towards their tail. This motion should cause your dog to sit. As soon as they sit, give them the treat and say “sit.”


This cue teaches your dog self-control and can be helpful in many situations. To teach your dog to stay, ask them to sit, and then hold your hand up with your palm facing towards them. Say “stay” and take one or two steps back. If they stay, reward them with a treat and praise.

Down (Lie Down)

This cue can be useful when you need your dog to calm down or stay in one place. To teach your dog to lie down, ask them to sit, and then hold a treat near the ground in front of them. Slowly move the treat down to the ground. As soon as they lie down, reward them with a treat and say “down.”

Off (Get Off Me, Someone Else, the Furniture)

This cue teaches your dog not to jump on people or furniture. To teach your dog to get off, say “off” and gently push them off. As soon as they get off, reward them with a treat and praise.

Up (Stand Up)

This cue can be used to get your dog to stand up. To teach your dog to stand up, hold a treat above their nose and move it up and forward towards their ears. As soon as they stand up, reward them with a treat and say “up.”

Come (To Me)

This cue is essential for keeping your dog safe and can be used in many situations. To teach your dog to come, say “come” in an excited tone and run away from them. As soon as they come to you, reward them with a treat and lots of praise.

Heel (Walk Close to My Side)

This cue teaches your dog to walk close to your side, making walks more enjoyable and controlled. To teach your dog to heel, start by walking with your dog on a leash. As soon as they start to pull, stop walking. When they come back to your side, say “heel” and reward them with a treat. Continue this process until your dog consistently stays by your side during walks.

Leave It (Don’t Touch or Pick Up Something from the Ground)

This cue can be helpful in preventing your dog from picking up dangerous items or stealing food. To teach your dog to leave it, place a treat on the ground and cover it with your hand. When your dog tries to get the treat, say “leave it.” As soon as they stop trying to get the treat, reward them with a different treat and praise.

Drop or Give (When Trading Something in Their Mouth for a Treat or Toy)

This cue is useful when you need your dog to release something from their mouth. To teach your dog to drop or give, offer them a treat while they have something in their mouth. Say “drop” or “give,” and when they release the item, reward them with the treat and praise.

Consistency is Key

Using the Same Cues

Everyone in the family should use the same cues; otherwise, your dog may get confused. It might help to post a list of cues where everyone can become familiar with them.

Always Rewarding Desired Behavior

Consistency also means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior. This will help your dog understand what is expected of them and make the training process more efficient.

Never Rewarding Undesired Behavior

It can be tempting to give your dog attention, even when they exhibit unwanted behavior. However, doing so will only reinforce the bad behavior. Instead, try to ignore your dog’s undesired actions and reward them when they display appropriate behavior.

Do dogs respond better to positive reinforcement?

Yes, dogs generally respond better to positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding desired behaviors, which increases the likelihood of those behaviors being repeated. It focuses on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.

What are some examples of positive reinforcement?

Examples of positive reinforcement for dogs include giving treats when they perform desired behaviors, offering verbal praise and encouragement, providing physical affection such as petting or belly rubs, engaging in playtime or interactive games, and using a clicker as a conditioned reinforcer.

Is negative reinforcement OK for dogs?

While negative reinforcement can be effective in some contexts, it is generally not recommended as the primary training method for dogs. Negative reinforcement involves the removal or avoidance of an unpleasant stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. However, it can create anxiety, fear, and confusion, leading to undesirable side effects and strained relationships. Positive reinforcement is a more humane and effective approach for training dogs.

What are positive dog behaviors?

Positive dog behaviors refer to actions and behaviors that are desirable and appropriate. Some examples of positive dog behaviors include sitting on command, coming when called, walking politely on a leash, properly greeting people without jumping or excessive barking, and displaying calm and relaxed behavior in various environments. These behaviors demonstrate obedience, self-control, good manners, social skills, and the ability to manage stress effectively.

When to Use Positive Reinforcement

The Good

Positive reinforcement is great for teaching your dog cues and reinforcing good behavior. For example, you may have your dog sit:

  • before letting them outside (which helps prevent door-darting)
  • before petting them (which helps prevent jumping on people)
  • before feeding them (which helps teach good mealtime manners)

Give them a pat or a “good dog” for lying quietly by your feet or slip a treat into a Kong-type toy when they chew that instead of your shoe.

The Bad

Detractors of positive reinforcement like to label R+ trainers as “cookie pushers.” It’s true that treats are a huge part of positive reinforcement training, but they don’t have to be the only form of reinforcement you provide. Some dogs will consider a quick game of fetch or tug as a fantastic reward!

However, for most owners, treats are the easiest option. While your dog may love praise, it’s not usually quiteenough incentive for most doggos. Here’s what many folks don’t seem to understand about dogs: Something will always be driving your dog’s behavior. No one on this wide green earth does anything for nothing, and you will have to choose between the carrot and the stick.

With positive reinforcement training, what’s driving your dog’s behavior is cookies. But for aversive training, what’s driving your dog’s behavior is fear and pain. I’d much rather be a treat slinger to my dog than use bullying intimidation tactics to make him afraid of me.

Also, keep in mind that there needs to be continued reinforcement when training with aversives too. Most dogs who learn not to pull to avoid pain while using a prong collar will begin pulling again once they realize they are not on a prong collar.

Shaping Behavior

Reinforcing Gradually

When teaching your dog new behaviors, it’s important to reinforce them gradually. This means rewarding small steps towards the desired behavior until your dog can perform the entire action. This technique, knownas shaping, can be helpful when teaching more complex behaviors or tricks.

Example: Teaching Shake

To teach your dog to shake hands, start by rewarding them for simply lifting their paw off the ground. Gradually increase the criteria, such as lifting their paw higher or placing it in your hand, and reward them each time they make progress. Eventually, your dog will learn to perform the entire “shake” behavior on cue.

Types of Rewards

Food Treats

Food treats are one of the most effective rewards in positive reinforcement training. Since most dogs are highly food-motivated, food treats work especially well for training. A treat should be enticing and irresistible to your pet. High-value training treats, such as small pieces of cooked chicken or cheese, can be particularly effective.


Praise is another form of reward that can be used in positive reinforcement training. When your dog performs a desired behavior, offer verbal praise, such as saying “good dog”or “yes!” in an enthusiastic tone. While praise may not be as motivating as food treats for some dogs, it can still be an effective way to reinforce good behavior, especially when used in combination with other rewards.


Physical touch, such as petting or stroking your dog, can also be a rewarding experience for them. When your dog performs a desired behavior, offer gentle petting as a reward. Keep in mind that some dogs may prefer petting to others, so it’s essential to pay attention to your dog’s preferences and adjust your rewards accordingly.

Toys and Games

Many dogs find toys and games to be highly rewarding, making them an excellent option for positive reinforcement training. For example, if your dog loves playing fetch, you can use a game of fetch as a reward for performing a desired behavior. Just make sure to choose toys and games that your dog genuinely enjoys and finds motivating.


Final Thoughts on Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training isa powerful and humane method for teaching your dog good behavior and building a strong bond between you and your furry friend. By focusing on rewarding desired behaviors and ignoring undesired ones, you can shape your dog’s actions and create a well-behaved, happy, and confident pet.

Remember that patience, consistency, and understanding are key components of successful positive reinforcement training. Take the time to learn your dog’s unique communication signals and preferences, and be prepared to invest time and energy into the training process. The results will be rewarding for both you and your dog, as you build a lifelong relationship based on trust, respect, and love.



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