Positive reinforcement puppy training, also called positive reward training, is as simple as rewarding your puppy when they do what you want them to do. But just what does your puppy find rewarding? Do you always have to give your puppy a treat? Not at all. Sometimes a kind word is plenty. Other times simply getting to do what they want is the reward.
If you are not actually doing a training exercise using a powerpoint course to teach a new command or activity, but your puppy is doing something that makes you happy, be sure to praise them.
There is no magic word here. “Good girl” or “Good boy” is great. So is “I love you.” Your puppy notices the tone of your voice and the delight in your face more than anything else.
Imagine that you are having dinner and your puppy is just lying on the floor quietly and not begging at the table. Tell your puppy they are doing a great job. Your puppy is learning that hanging out peacefully is a desired behavior, or something you want them to do.
If you get up from the table and give your puppy a treat, there is a good chance your puppy will stop sitting there nicely and will instead get up and follow you back to the table. Sometimes positive praise works much better than a treat!
A lot of times, your puppy will ask you for something, and if you let them have it, that is their reward. If you are playing fetch and your puppy is sitting politely waiting for you to toss the ball instead of trying to grab it from your hand, this is good behavior. Why give a treat or even kind words? What your puppy wants is for you to toss the ball. Go ahead and toss it!
It is the same thing if your puppy waits at the door for you to open it so they can go outside and play or go potty. They are doing the right thing. Reward them by opening the door.
It sounds simple, but sometimes you can accidentally teach your dog to do the behavior you don’t like. Imagine that you are sitting and reading a book when you hear your puppy scratch at the door because they want to go play. You are so focused on your book that you ignore your puppy. Then your puppy barks a little and then some more. Eventually, you get so distracted that you get up and let your puppy out. But here’s what you actually just did: Your puppy just learned to bark and scratch loudly to go out and play. That is not what you were trying to teach them!
Here is a better way to teach your puppy the desired behavior. As you get to know them better, you may see your puppy is looking at the door and sitting quietly nearby. Go let your puppy out. You are rewarding your puppy for being quiet.
If you do not reward your puppy fast enough and they start barking, remember to stop their behavior by ignoring it. Sit calmly in the chair, but listen closely to your puppy.
At some point, your puppy will stop barking. As soon as they are quiet, jump up from the chair and take them out.
Once this happens a few times, your puppy will learn that sitting quietly by the door gets them what they want, and that barking does not.