Reward-based training is simple.

Your dog is a social animal who wants to please you. This means that verbally praising your dog or rewarding him with a treat or a rub behind the ears can be the perfect way to get him to repeat whatever he did to earn that reward. Sounds pretty simple, right? It’s the “secret” behind successful reward-based training. Everything else is technique.

There’s no secret to reward-based training. The success comes from your consistent technique.

Be immediate and consistent.
Always reward your dog IMMEDIATELY after he performs the training command correctly. If he’s been asked to “Come”, his praise and treat must be delivered the moment his face is close enough to pet. If he’s supposed to “Sit”, the treat should be in his mouth the instant his butt hits the floor. Otherwise he might not associate the treat with the action, and that’s the whole point. For instance, if you let your pet stand up and then give him a treat, he may think he’s being praised for standing.

Reward-based training also requires consistency in tone and commands. If more than one person in the family has responsibility for training, everyone has to learn the same one-word commands and respond with the same immediate reward for a job well done.

It’s not about food; it’s about creating a bond.
Critics gripe that pets should not be taught to want food every time they do something they should be doing anyway. There’s truth in that, of course. But used correctly, treats can be a very effective, friendly way of establishing good behaviors that will later become habits and no longer require food rewards. You just have to be sure that you always combine a food reward with whatever other reward will eventually take over for the treat.

Usually, verbal praise becomes the substitute for food treats. This means that when you say, “Come”, you should give your pet a treat the instant he reaches you, and at the very same time, say “Good dog!” or “Good!” until he wags his tail and understands that he’s done the right thing. Pretty soon he’ll “come” just to hear you say, “Good dog.”

It’s really no different than saying “please” and “thank you”, and oh, by the way, here’s a little something extra for your efforts.

Rewards work better than negativity.
When you punish your dog by shouting, it can be confusing and demoralizing – and will only make learning harder for your pet. If you were ever publicly scolded by a teacher, you know why: being reprimanded for not paying attention usually makes correct responses fly right out of our heads.

So unless your pet has been allowed to develop a very bad or dangerous habit that he has to unlearn, rewarding him will lead to an obedient, fun-loving companion much faster than negativity will.

Types of positive reinforcement:
Every pet has unique qualities and will respond to certain rewards better than others. Pay attention to what pleases your pet, and use it to encourage and reward him during training sessions. Here are several things that virtually all dogs like:

  • Spoken praise: Use a friendlier voice than when giving a command. Say, “Good”, “Yes”, or “Good dog!”
  • Going outside: Coach your dog to “Sit” just before he gets to go outside so that he associates obedience with a nice walk.
  • Petting: Again, put him through a verbal command just before petting him.
  • Playtime: Reward him after a training session with a game of fetch or tug-of-war.
  • Toys: Give your pet his favorite toy as a treat immediately after he performs well, just as you’d give a food treat.
  • Food: See below – food is in a league of its own as a starter motivation.

Types of food rewards:
Food rewards work best if your pet has established feeding times instead of a bowl that’s always full, because he’ll know food comes from you, rather than from his bowl. Food treats should be small, soft, smelly and irresistible. When training, carry a little baggie along and dispense as needed. (And don’t forget to always combine food treats with verbal praise, so that verbal praise will eventually be all that’s needed.)

Here are some proven favorites:

  • Bits of hot dog.
  • Bits of low-fat cheese.
  • Small pieces of cooked meat or chicken.
  • Bite-size commercial treats.

Reward-based training is fun.
If you approach each training session with patience and consistence, you and your pet will enjoy the experience and form bonds of respect and trust that will last a lifetime.

For more detailed information on effectively praising your pet, browse through these links:

Humane Society: Positive Reinforcement: Training Your Dog with Treats and Praise

Positive Dog Training: Positive Dog Training Techniques

About.com Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Using Reward Based Dog Training

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