Why do we use positive reinforcement when training and working with our dogs?

Positive reinforcement (also known as R+) builds trust and helps strengthen our relationship with the dogs around us. We use a mark and reward system to teach the dog when they are doing something right. This helps us effectively communicate behaviors that we want to see more from our dogs and helps them build confidence too!

With R+, we mark using a clicker or a friendly “yes!” and then we reward the dog with a reinforcer like a high value treat. The dog quickly learns that the marker means they have done something good!

We also use positive reinforcement to counter condition fearful stimuli (triggers). For this, we keep the dog at a distance where they are comfortable and not reacting to a trigger, and then mark and reward each time they acknowledge the trigger by looking at it. This helps the dog associate a trigger more positively and gradually reduces their fear.

When working with your dogs at home, it’s a great idea to keep treats somewhere handy so you can mark and reward when you catch your dog doing something good! When they’ve done something inappropriate, it’s best to redirect them to an appropriate behavior. We avoid using aversive measures like punishment, shock/prong collars, leash corrections, etc. because these methods can suppress behaviors instead of addressing them, strain your relationship with the dog and cause additional fear and anxiety. This is why we always use science-based, positive reinforcement training!