Positive Reinforcement Training for Dogs


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Training a dog is not an easy task.  It takes patience, consistency, and time to make sure that your pup is well behaved.

There are many different techniques out there for training dogs. However, one of the most popular methods is positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement can provide you with an easier way to train your dog without using any force or punishment at all.

Positive reinforcement for training dogs has been shown to produce better results than any punishment-based training.

In fact, even research has shown that positive reinforcement training for dogs yields far better results than negative reinforcement (source)


The following blog post will explore these different techniques in detail.

What is positive reinforcement for dogs

Positive reinforcement is a training method that encourages good behavior when a positive outcome is met. 


Basically, if you’re working with your dog and they respond correctly, you give them lots of praise and attention.

The beautiful thing about positive reinforcement for dog training is that when your dog does the command right over and over again, they get reward as well.

This builds the cycle of positive reinforcement for doing something that you want them to do - which further increases the chance of them continuing to do what you want them to do!

Your dog, then will continue to do well because they want to please, and they know that when they do what you say, they will be rewarded.

When using positive reinforcement for dogs it can be helpful to teach basic commands like “sit” or “stay” first before moving on to more advanced behaviors. 

However it's also important to remember not all techniques work for every dog so you should always start slowly when implementing new ones into your routine.

You also know your dogs best - you'll know what they like and capitalize on what they really love and use that as positive reinforcement.

This works best for dog treats - knowing the value of the dog treats can mean a significantly quicker positive reinforcement training than when using regular treats!

Why use positive reinforcement dog training

It creates an environment where both pet and owner feel safe sharing love and affection towards each other - disciplining without hurting feelings or making pets fearful about their surroundings

The alternative, negative reinforcement, which simply means removing something unpleasant from the situation once the desired behavior occurs.

At best, this can lead to confusion and resistance in dogs because they aren't sure what it is you want them to do.

At worst, this can mess up all your training efforts, con completely confuse your dog on what is right for them to do, and what isn't.

Positive reinforcement is a type of dog training where the positive outcome reinforces positive behavior. This means that positive reinforcements will encourage your dog to continue performing well.

The alternative, negative reinforcement, which simply means removing something unpleasant from the situation once the desired behavior occurs.

At best, this can lead to confusion and resistance in dogs because they aren't sure what it is you want them to do.

At worst, this can mess up all your training efforts, con completely confuse your dog on what is right for them to do, and what isn't.

How to train a dog with positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is used to encourage good behavior in dogs, whether it's a simple sit or something more complicated.

The dog learns that by doing the desired action (sitting), they will be rewarded with praise and/or food treats.

This type of training can help you avoid using negative punishment methods like yelling at your pooch for bad behavior as well as stop them from jumping up on people when greeting them.

Positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement for dogs

Both positive and negative reinforcement works for dogs, but by far, positive reinforcement has been the one that is far more effective in training dogs.

Plus, negative reinforcement training for dogs tend to work better on dogs that like to please - this will generally cause those dogs to quickly stop doing what they're doing and want to do what you want them to do, to gain your affection again.

This is a somewhat morally and ethically ambiguous method to train a dog, but it can work.... If you don't overdo it.

Example of positive reinforcement for dogs

Let's say you want your dog to learn the command 'sit'.

In the positive reinforcement method, you guide your dog with your hand (and a tiny bit of pressure) to get them into a sit position.

Then, you reward your dog with either praise or treats.

Now they have an association in their minds - when you say 'sit', and they sit down, they'll be rewarded with treats or with praise and touch.

Assuming this behavior increases every time you tell them to 'sit', you can safely say that this behavior is positively reinforced, because they associate this with something positive (treats, affection, etc.)

Example of negative reinforcement for dogs

In the negative reinforcement method, you'll push your dog's bottom into a sit position, and then release the pressure once your dog is sitting.

Assuming that this behavior will increase every time you tell your dog to sit, you can then say this behavior is negatively reinforced, by removing the force to make your dog sit.

This method can also sometimes be referred to as the forceful method, or by fear.

You can clearly see the differences in the training style. Believe it or not, people used to think that dogs only learned through fear and force, until research actually proved that positive reinforcement actually works better.

In fact, it works a lot better on ALL animals, rather than just dogs.

As such, negative reinforcement for dog training doesn't work very well compared to positive reinforcement. 

You'll probably also get a lot of flak for practicing negative reinforcement on a dog in the modern era.


However, we do cover the topic of negative reinforcement for dogs as well - click the banner below to learn more.

How to use positive reinforcement to train your dog

Positive reinforcement is a great way to train your dog. It can be an effective alternative for when positive punishment techniques aren’t the best option. Here are some tips on how to use positive reinforcement with dogs!

Using the example above on positive reinforcement, there are certain tactics that you can use for positive reinforcement training your dog:


When using positive reinforcement, it's VERY IMPORTANT to apply it at the correct time.

Your pet may not connect the reward with the intended activity if it comes too late (within seconds). If you offer a dog a treat after they've sat down but then award them after they've stood back up, they'll believe they're being rewarded for standing.

Keep your commands short

Dogs are unable to comprehend language. “Sit for me” is unlikely to elicit a reply from the dog.

Dogs learn primarily through body language, so start by encouraging your dog into a “sit” or “down” position before asking them with words.

When your dog sits and looks up at you, hold a toy or treat in one hand and gently move it over and behind their head so they have to sit to see it.

By lowering your arm slowly while bringing the reward closer to the ground between their front paws, you can lure them into a down posture.

Start adding the word "sit" or "down" in a calm voice when your dog is doing the action correctly, and avoid repeating the word. Keep vocal instructions simple and brief.

Some simple verbal commands to start you off on training can include:

- Watch

- Sit

- Stay

- Down (as in, lay down)

- Off (getting off furniture)

- Out (get out of a room, or dog house or crate)

- Leave it [or just 'Leave'] (to ignore whatever is on the ground, or a general ignore everything command)

- Drop it (If your dog has something in its mouth and you want it to release it for treats, or toy)

Rewarding good behavior immediately

Reward good behavior right away. You want them to understand what you wanted from them so they will understand what you want, and that by doing what you want, they will get rewarded as well.


Can I use positive reinforcement for dog aggression

You can use positive reinforcement to train your dog.

Positive reinforcement for dogs is highly recommended by trainers and behaviorists as the most effective way to help your pet learn new skills, improve their behaviors overall, and stop unwanted ones like aggression.

Can I use positive reinforcement for toilet training


Positive reinforcement is always appropriate, even when you’re house training.

Does positive reinforcement work for all dogs


Positive reinforcement is effective for ALL DOGS, from the shyest puppy to the most stubborn adult dog.

There are certain caveats when it doesn't work though, but that is more to do with how intensive your training is with your dogs, rather than the dog breed or temperament itself.

More information can be found here on this topic. 


To put it simply, Positive reinforcement for dog training works the best with dogs, and will yield you the best results.

For more on the topic of training dogs and puppies with positive reinforcement, you can visit the article on puppy training here.

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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