MARCH 2009


What is positive reinforcement? What motivates your dog to listen to you and obey your commands? In short, why should your dog listen to you if there is no reward for him in doing so?

Positive reinforcement can be any of a number of things to which your dog will respond while the two of you are working and entails the implementation of positive stimuli to get the dog to listen to you and obey your commands (and enjoy it!).

Your voice
Your voice is probably the most important form of positive reinforcement, as it is always available to you for praising your dog, even if the dog is at a distance.

For many dogs, a simple "Good boy!" in an upbeat, friendly and excited tone of voice will be enough to motivate him to carry on working with you. Just beware, some hyper active dogs might freak out if you praise him too profusely - thinking that, judging by the tone of your voice, it is now play-time and working-time is over.

The big secret is: know your dog and know what his response will be to a change in your tone of voice - and praise him according to the reaction that you would like to get from him. A cool and calm "Good boy!" vs. an excited, high-pitched "Good boy!" will most certainly result in two different responses from your dog!

Your hands are also always available to be used while training your dog, provided that the dog remains nearby. Hands are unfortunately not quite as useful as your voice when the dog is at a distance.

A simple pat, chest rub or an ear scratch can be highly effective in motivating your dog, especially dogs that love to be touched and cuddled. These dogs will do anything just to be touched.

Again, beware of overdoing this form of praise, as a dog might easily roll over onto its back, exposing his tummy to make sure he receives a thorough scratch, instead of doing a straight forward "down" and only having his ears scratched. Dogs are not stupid - they will most certainly manipulate a situation to suit their desires (and we humans will gladly obey!) Once

again: know your dog and know what his reaction to a specific form of touch will be.

This is why we always warn people never to hit their dogs - human hands are supposed to be associated with praise and positive interaction and not with punishment.

Food / snacks
Although Hans and Ivone are not very much in favour of using snacks in dog training, it can still be used successfully for dogs that are motivated by food. This dog will do just about anything for a snack! (Beware of too much - we don't want overweight dogs!)

The idea is that you start out regularly rewarding your dog with a snack if he obeys your commands and pays attention to you. You then gradually begin decreasing the number times that you reward him with food and use your voice instead.

If your dog is food-motivated, it is much easier to get him into a "sit" or a "down" by holding a snack in front of his nose, rather than using your hands to force your dog into that position and then only using your voice to praise him as a reward. Remember, your hands (touching) in such a case will not be regarded as praise, as those same hands were just now used to force him to "sit" or "down". A snack is eventually a kinder way of getting your dog to obey voluntarily!

This is the best type of positive reinforcement for a dog with a high prey drive (the instinct to chase a moving object). This dog will do anything just for the opportunity to chase a ball, play tug-of-war with a rope or "kill" a squeaky toy.

The idea is that you reward the dog with a quick play with his favourite toy after he has obeyed the command/s given by you. Although this can be very successful in training, it can also be quite disruptive. Imagine a class of twenty dogs, chasing twenty different toys at the same time. Disaster looming when one dog prefers to chase his neighbour's better looking toy!

The secret - know your dog and know what he likes best. Just like us humans - your dog will not continue working if there is no reward at the end of the task.