There are many competing theories around about the best way to train your dog. But the most popular method, and one that's also highly effective, is to use positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement training is based on one simple principle: if you reward your dog for doing the right thing, they'll be more likely to repeat that behavior. For example, if you give your dog a treat or a whole lot of praise when they sit on command, there's a good chance they'll repeat the behavior when you ask them to "sit" in future.
Positive reinforcement training is known by a number of other names, including rewards-based training and force-free training, and it's a simple and efficient way to teach your dog how you want them to behave.
Let's take a closer look at how positive reinforcement works, the benefits of this method, and a couple of examples of how you can put it into practice with your dog.
It wasn't all that long ago that dog training basically focused on showing your dog that you were the "alpha". This so-called "dominance theory" required pet parents to assert dominance over their dogs, sometimes through the use of force. However, there's now a large body of evidence showing that not only do these methods cause anxiety, fear, and pain for dogs, but they also often fail to address the cause of behavior problems in dogs.
This has led to a rise in the popularity of positive reinforcement training. The theory behind positive reinforcement is that if a behavior is rewarding, dogs will repeat it. Rather than punishing your dog for doing the wrong thing, it's designed to show them the right way to behave.
So the first step when training your dog with positive reinforcement is to find the reward that your dog values the most. This could be a particular food treat, cuddles and praise, or playtime with a favorite toy. By giving your dog a high-value reward when they perform a desired behavior, you'll reinforce their belief that doing what you want them to do leads to nice things.
The other most important aspect of positive reinforcement training is developing a relationship of trust with your dog. This is something that will grow over time as you train your dog using positive, rewards-based methods rather than those based on fear and punishment. As your dog comes to learn that they have nothing to fear from you, and in fact that making you happy leads to a whole lot of good things, the bond between the two of you will only grow stronger.
And when you and your dog are working together as a team, positive training results will soon follow.
The exact training process when using positive reinforcement varies depending on the skills you're trying to teach. Before you start, it's important to understand why your dog is behaving the way they are. For example:
Once you know the cause of any undesired behavior, you can get to work solving the problem. And once you know what reward motivates your fur-baby the most, it's time to start training your dog.
Let's take a look at how you can use positive reinforcement to tackle two common dog behavior problems: pulling on the lead and greeting visitors calmly.