Here's Why Positive Reinforcement Is The Best Kind Of Dog Training


Positive reinforcement is a term you often hear when learning about dog training, but what does it actually mean?

To understand it better, The Dodo reached out Juliana Willems, head trainer at JW Dog Training in Washington, D.C., for some insight.

What is positive reinforcement training for dogs?

According to Willems, the technical definition of "reinforcement" is increasing the likelihood a behavior occurs. The "positive" in positive reinforcement simply means "to add something."

“So, when talking about dog training, positive reinforcement means to add something good to increase the likelihood you see more of the behavior,” Willems said. “The most common example of this is giving your dog a treat when they do something you like.”

How does positive reinforcement training work?

According to Willems, it's important to understand how positive reinforcement works because your dog is always learning what works for him, whether you're in a training session or not. “This means positive reinforcement can work for you … or against you!” Willems said.

For example, if your dog jumps up on the counter and successfully steals a sandwich, he’s been positively reinforced for counter surfing and he’s highly likely to jump up again.

Because that sandwich was good.

“This is why you have to make sure you are positively reinforcing behavior you do want to see from your dog,” Willems said.

To do this, keep an eye out for behaviors you like and reinforce those behaviors with treats, affection, play or anything else your dog really enjoys.

Meaning that when you see your dog calmly look at a sandwich and then look away from it, uninterested, it’s a good time to mark and reward.

How is it different from negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement means punishing your dog when they do bad stuff — while positive reinforcement instead rewards the good stuff.

Positive reinforcement is generally a kinder training method that leads to happier dogs, since negative reinforcement can lead to anxiety, fear and other behavior issues.

“Behaviors that get reinforced get repeated, so soon you'll start seeing more of those desirable behaviors!” Willems said.