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Positive reinforcement dog training, also referred to as force-free, reward-based, or clicker training, is a method that focuses on telling your dog when he is correct, instead of only pointing out what is incorrect.

This is done through a marker for correctness and timing, paired with a reward that is reinforcing to the dog. The marker can be a clicker, a simple device that when pressed makes a distinct, consistent sound, or a short word such as “yes,” “good,” or “smart.”

How To Give A Positive Reward

The reward can be food of different values. For instance, a high-value treat might be premium, chewy, soft dog treats and a low-value treat might be kibble. Rewards can also be toys, praise, petting, or play, as long as the dog is motivated to work for it.

The correct behavior is “marked” as soon as it happens, and the reward follows the marker. The dog learns to associate the marker with the reward, producing positive outcomes in the dog’s behavior.

Here is a breakdown of what most dogs would define as their hierarchy of rewards:

  • At home with few distractions use low-value: kibble, carrots, ice cubes, green beans, or dry biscuits.
  • In your yard use medium-value: commercial training treats or meaty-type treats.
  • At the park use high value-treats, like premium chewy, soft dog treats with great flavors/smells such as peanut butter, salmon, and chicken.

Purina® Pro Plan® offers a variety of products and formulas –dry, wet, and treats- that are excellent for actively engaging your dog during training. A variety of dry food is available that targets specific areas of interest for your dog, including Purina® Pro Plan® Bright Mind®, which was created to help support cognitive health in adult dogs, with a proprietary blend of brain-supporting nutrients.

And if you’re working with your puppy, Purina® Pro Plan® has you covered there too. Purina® Pro Plan® offers a breadth of different puppy formulas so you can find the one that works best for your pup.

In terms of treats, they have several different options, with real meat as the first ingredient. Purina® Pro Plan® treats are made with no added coloring or flavoring, and they’re sure to get your pup’s attention during training sessions!

Remember, this hierarchy is not fixed, and every dog won’t necessarily put the same value on these treats. Offer different types of food rewards to find out what your dog likes best, and build your dog’s reward hierarchy from there.

When in an unfamiliar environment among distractions, or when learning something new, your dog’s job is harder. Just like you would expect to get paid more for doing a more difficult job, your dog should be paid more, too!

When you are teaching something new or practicing in a new environment, increase the value of your treats. Be sure you always use small pieces of any treat. Treats should be pea-size or smaller, so your dog doesn’t get too full or spend more time chewing than paying attention to you.

The more often you reward your dog when he does what you ask, the more likely he’ll do what you ask in the future.

The Psychology Behind Positive Reinforcement

The psychological principle of positive reinforcement training is a process known as operant conditioning, a system of learning in which a reward or punishment is added or removed, resulting in the increase or decrease of a specific behavior. Positive reinforcement training concentrates on the addition of a reward to increase the likelihood of a behavior in the dog.

Initiated in the 1940s by psychologist and behaviorist B.F. Skinner, this method of dog training did not take hold until the 1990s. Since its reemergence, however, positive reinforcement dog training has become part of mainstream animal training and is consistently gaining in popularity.

Converts to this method of reinforcement training believe it works better than more traditional training methods that are based on dominance and punishment. Rather than asking a dog to behave out of fear of reprisal, positive reinforcement encourages the dog to behave because it is more rewarding and fun.

This creates a stronger bond, based on mutual trust and respect, between owner and dog and allows for clearer communication between the two. Proponents also see an increase of willingness to work, eagerness to please, and increased rate of learning.


Sponsored by Purina® Pro Plan®.
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