Positive Reinforcement Training Tips

They don’t call them “man’s best friend” for nothing!  Domestic dogs have for thousands of years lived with humans in various capacities, from aiding in hunting to protecting livestock. In order to perform these functions, dogs learned to communicate with people and perform as their owners wished.

Dogs are highly sensitive and responsive animals. They can tell when their owners are happy, sad, or nervous, and they may express these emotions themselves.

Because dogs do have feelings, and intelligence that may be compared to that of a toddler (some breeds are as smart as a human seven-year-old!), it’s important that you refrain from treating your pet negatively. Continually shouting at a small child may scare him into submission, but it probably won’t make for a happy or healthy young person in the long run, even if he does obey.

Your dog does not understand that you’re angry he got into the garbage bin; for one, dogs get into things because they’re dogs, and for two, his brain just isn’t going to connect your harsh tones and loud movements with all the fun he had with leftovers this afternoon. Just as with small children, dogs need to be coerced into behaving well with smiles and cheer.

Your pet will understand when you’re unhappy with him, but he won’t understand why so well as the fact that you just are. That’s why it’s important to work on refining your dog’s behavior in a different way, with positivity.

Positive reinforcement is one of the best methods of training your dog. It’s easier for your dog to understand what he did right, rather than grasping the concept of some arbitrary human rule he didn’t follow (such as resisting sticking his muzzle into the appealing-smelling trash bin). When you’re happy, your dog is happy as well.

As such, two of the best ways to train your dog are with enthusiasm and with puppy treats. Both of these need to be awarded to your pet immediately after he performs the desirable action, so that he understands and repeats it again.

Because dogs understand human emotions so well, it’s key to praise him when he does something correctly, even if it’s by accident. Use upbeat vocal tones, and repeated phrases like “Good dog!” Respond in this way when your dog completes commands, and pair it with petting and physical affection when you’re really proud.

Treats are a great idea for training. Your pet gets a treat for sitting instead of jumping on visitor, for not barking when the doorbell rings, when he fetches an item, and so on.  As long as they don’t trigger a food allergy, treats are a safe and effective way for modifying behavior and completing training. Be patient at first, since your dog probably won’t understand right away.

It doesn’t take much to make dogs happy–pets and treats, please! Check out the infographic below for more on how to get your pet to please you with positive reinforcement.

Positive Training small


  1. Be grateful for the fun times and laugh off the mistakes and accidents that happen along the way. They’re all part of the experience that binds you together.

  2. I use positive reinforcement with my dog, but struggle with not repeating the command. How so you handle when the dog just looks at you and has no intention of obeying? This usually occurs when I’m attempting to get him to “come” into the house from outside.

  3. All good stuff in the graphic.
    Many, many years ago we took a dog for training when the only technique used was (expletive deleted) ‘Be the ‘Pack Leader’ and abuse your dog into submission.
    More recently, we took a dog to a Positive trainer and were able to see the difference immediately – the dropout rate was now zero instead of almost fifty percent because the dogs and their owners were much happier and successful.
    If you decide to take your dog to a trainer please check them out and if possible attend a training session before signing up for classes. Any trainer can say they use positive training methods. Our most recent encounter was with a trainer sent to us by a rescue to work on a problem we were having with our current foster. Even though he described him self as a ‘positive only trainer’ the only thing positive was that he is positive that the correct way to deal with a fearful dog is to increase the dogs confidence by abusing it with a skinny choke collar.
    One place to get free advice about how to deal with problem behaviors is http://www.allexperts.com/el/Canine-Behavior/ . I have contacted two of the behaviorists on this site a few times with excellent results. Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT – up to date on the latest techniques and very compassionate. Jill Connor, Ph.D. – a little old school at times but doesn’t pull any punches if you are doing something stupid or dangerous.

  4. I love the illustration and while I like for training to be reward based and positive I’m curious about how you would stop a dog from getting in the garbage in the scenario here. No argument that yelling and getting angry is not going to help, so how would you do that?

    1. Max, that’s a really good question. I’m not a qualified dog trainer myself, but did run into this problem many times. What I was told from a trainer is that you just have to remove the temptation from the scene altogether, or make it unobtainable. When you’re not there to police the dog, you ultimately lose the control you had over them. Other advice I’ve heard is to just train them to not enter into the kitchen, and sometimes that prevents the trash crawler, or crate train them.

    2. I’ve found that the best way to discourage dumpster diving is to set the dog up to fail by leaving him alone with the trash can, but put a cookie sheet with silverware or pennies on top of it so that if he tries to get the trash, the cookie sheet will fall and make a loud, startling noise. The key to this is that the correction comes from the environment instead of from you, so Fido learns that even when the humans aren’t around he shouldn’t be digging his nose in the trash. A few consistent repetitions of this should be enough to teach him to leave it alone 🙂

  5. This is so true and I am so glad it’s been proven. We can change our dog’s behavior within seconds using this technique. She even learned play for good behavior on her own. The inforgraphic is pretty awesome btw.

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