What Is Positive Reinforcement?

How does it work and why is it so important?

Introduction - Read This First!

Positive reinforcement is just a fancy way of saying “giving the dog good things after doing something good”. “Positive” means giving them something and “Reinforcement” means it’s something nice that they like. This will make them want to do those good things more so they get more rewards. Remember all the different types of things you can reward your dog with??: 

How Do I Use Positive Reinforcement?​

Do Good Things + Reward =
More Good Things!

Positive Reinforcement is the most effective method for teaching dogs new things. It’s very simple and straightforward. All it really means is:

Dog Does Good Thing…
Dog Gets Something Good…
Dog Does Good Thing More!

Treats Come AFTER Doing Something Good

It’s very important to understand that anything positive your dog gets needs to come after they do something good. 

Remember That Treats Come


Doing Something Good

Here is a very simple example from the lesson on DROP-IT. Pay attention to the order of the command, then the drop-it, then the reward.

What Do I Use Positive Reinforcement For?

Positive reinforcement can be used to teach many useful commands, like DROP-IT for your stolen socks, the basic SIT command, LEASH WALKING, or even overcoming FEARS. Positive reinforcement is the main method for communicating with dogs. Overall, positivity is much clearer and much less stressful than punishment when it comes to training and communication. 

What Happens If I Use Punishments To Teach My Dog?​


Punishments are dangerous to introduce too early or too often, because they only shut down whatever a dog was doing when they were punished. They don’t teach what to do instead. For this reason, dogs that are trained with too much punishment can eventually shut down completely, and nobody wants that!

1% Punishment

Training Should Be:

99% Positive Reinforcement

1% Punishment

PUNISHMENT is covered in another page because it’s a very important topic. Punishment means anything your dog doesn’t like, so that can be using a mean voice or something like time-out. In some situations, punishment is appropriate, but not very often! A good rule for training is: 

Pro Trainer Principles:
Never Use Punishment As The First Option For Training

Punishment - Leash Walking Example

Here is an example from the LEASH WALKING lesson, of using punishment effectively, and only just a little:

5 Common Punishment Mistakes

While punishment can be used sometimes, we don’t use it very often. This is because our dogs usually don’t understand the  punishments the way we wanted them to. Because of this, using punishments too much or too early can make dogs confused, scared, and fearful. This video explains the negative consequences of using too much punishment. 

Do I Have To Be Positive and Happy 100% Of The Time?​

Use Positive Training For NEW Things

Pro Trainer Principles:
Never Use Punishment As The First Option For Training

You don’t have to be TOTALLY positive ALL the time, but it is important to use mostly positivity in training dog and communicating with your dog. Then as you develop a stronger relationship with your dog, you should be able to let them know when you are happy or not happy with something they did. But always remember this: 

Always Use Positive Reinforcement To Teach Your Dog Anything NEW

Clicker Training

Especially if your dog is very sensitive, you need to be happy and goofy with them all the time.It may sound annoying, but it’s actually quite fun, and you probably got a dog to have fun, right?? Remember that owning a dog and training with them should be FUN! The video below explains a bit about positive reinforcement training with clickers. These aren’t necessary, but can be a useful tool in training. 

What Can My Dog Learn With Positive Training?​


Literally everything! Anything you want to teach your dog, can and should be taught with positive reinforcement - that means using treats, toys, and affection!

Fun Tricks

Every dog should have a few cute tricks up their sleeve! Here’s some examples of tricks you can start right now. And the only way to work on them is to be fun, happy, and have a good time!

Obedience and Manners

Obedience is the same as tricks. It may be more boring, but your dog needs to learn their manners. And the best way to do that is by guiding them with positivity and love, not punishment and fear.

Overcoming Fears

The only way to overcome fears is to turn bad and scary things into fund and positive things. And you guessed it – you do that with treats, toys and positive reinforcement. This is covered in more detail in the lessons on fear training.

Exercise: Practice Positive Reinforcement With Treats


Let’s see if you can reward the right way! Try waiting patiently to reward your dog after any of these good behaviors and see if they start doing them more often. You might be surprised with how fast they start learning!

Timing Is Everything!

A very important part about positive reinforcement is that it has to be fast! Remember that dogs have a really bad sense of time, so you can’t wait too long after they did something good to let them know! 

Here’s some examples of how you can practice your timing of giving treats. These are easy to do at home. Make sure to say “YES!” and give the treat quickly!

1. Sitting

This one is easy and fun. Just look at your dog with a nice smile and don’t say anything. Wait for them to sit politely. Say “YES!” as soon as their butt hits the ground. This is actually good for teaching them manners too!

2. Looking At You

This is good practice for other commands you’re going to work on later, where it’s important for your dog to make eye contact with you. When they’re not paying attention, hold a treat up in your fist near your face, and wait for them to look at your face. As soon as they make eye contact, say “YES!” and give them the treat.

3. Following You To Another Room

Super simple! Walk to another room and wait for your dog to come in behind you. As soon as they come in the room and you see them, say “YES!” and rub their face or give them a treat. No watch as your dog starts to follow you everywhere!

Can Positive Reinforcement Go Wrong?​

The only time positive reinforcement is bad is when you accidentally reinforce your dog for bad behaviors like begging, jumping up for attention, or barking from another room when you walk in.

Here are some examples of dogs that have learned all kinds of funny (and sometimes annoying!) behaviors because they got lots of attention and praise for them. These aren’t necessarily bad, but it’s up to you to decide if you want your dog to do these things or not. 

Still Have Questions?

Still Have Questions?

Ask About Anything Not Covered In This Lesson

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