Dog Training Basics: Reinforcement

March 1, 2021

What Is Reinforcement

The definition of Reinforcement is the process of encouraging or establishing a belief or behavior, especially by encouragement or reward. This concept is something we use everyday when we interact with our co-workers, our family, or the grocery store clerk. Reinforcement happens all the time, and it takes very little effort for us to be reinforcing to others. 

Tug and container of food

Don’t go anywhere without these two reinforcers!

In a scientific sense we are using reinforcement to increase the frequency of a behavior. Your kids do the dishes without being asked 100 times, you may give them a high five or five dollars. When the grocery store clerk has a pleasant attitude, you may tell them “thank you” or tell the manager how amazing they are. Both of these things work to increase the behavior that you want to see. Which one do you think would be more effective for the person? 

Well, that depends on the person. 

Reinforcement drives Behavior

Cargo tugging

Cargo likes to get her tug at the end of a fastcat run!

All behaviors are increased when they are reinforced. You continue to go to work because you get a paycheck. (Bonus points if you also love your job) I continue to make dinner because I will continue to live when I eat. (I hate cooking!) Your dog does not have the forethought to work for a paycheck at the end of the week so we are better off with lots of reinforcement throughout their life. Each time you acknowledge something your dog does right, the more likely you are to see that behavior repeated.

What does your dog find reinforcing?

  • For most dogs Food is pretty amazing. A well timed kibble or piece of hotdog can make a big difference for your dog and their future behavior. Each kibble or treat becomes a small “well done, thank you,” which over time leads to big changes! 
  • Attention is the mother of all behaviors. It is also a big reinforcement for your dogs. What happens when your puppy is doing something wrong? You give them attention. Even if you are yelling at them, they are getting what they want. 
  • Toys! Retrievers and herding dogs love their toys! They play into their natural instincts of get the thing and bite the thing. Use those instincts to get the behaviors you are looking for! 
  • Environment! Stuff on the counter or that really great smelly tree. Both of these things are reinforcing a behavior. This could be a behavior you want or a behavior you don’t want. If your dog is pulling you towards that smelly tree you can use the environment to ask for a sit, then run to the smelly tree together. Food on the counter is immediately reinforcing paws on the counter. Use your mat to teach your dog that feet on the floor is how you get the stuff on the counter, and in the meantime make sure your dog is not reinforcing himself! 

Paying attention to what your dog enjoys and choosing the right reinforcer can make all the difference in your training sessions! Play with each and see where you get the best results! Remember that behavior is happening all the time and not only within a training session. Reinforcing those behaviors you like on a regular basis will help them stick around. 

Pay attention to the behaviors you like to see, and reinforce them this week. Let us know what changes you see in your pup!

About Us

At The Freckled Paw, we are committed to kindness towards both you and your dog. We understand that every dog and owner team is different and will have their own unique challenges. We pride ourselves in listening to your challenges and coming up with a plan that will help you reach your goals for your life with your dog. Let us help you navigate your challenges and come up with a plan that works!