Positive reinforcement is the name we use for a good consequence being added to a situation after the dog has made a choice that we would like them to make again. It’s called reinforcement because it makes the choice stronger and is typical learning from consequence. The important thing about this type of learning is that it makes the dog feel good, gives them freedom to make choices, helps them to succeed and ultimately makes them stronger and more resilient.
The opposite to positive reinforcement is waiting for the dog to do something we consider to be wrong then either correcting or punishing them. This works against our goal for a nicely trained dog in so many ways.
First it ensures they practice making the choice that we ultimately don’t want them to make.
Then it knocks their confidence so they are worried about trying anything new.
Punishment also breaks our bond.
Canine coaching through positive reinforcement is the opposite, it sets our dogs up to succeed by having a clear goal and plan. A roadmap to favourable choices is prepared before we teach and that roadmap always involves setting the dog up to excel in the session and become more confident overall.
Teaching a dog through rewards and skilled lessons can take a long time to learn. It’s about preparation, timing, knowledge of what exactly you want to achieve and application of that knowledge physically – in a way that doesn’t confuse or overwhelm your student.
Positive reinforcement coaching skills are necessary whether you are a dog trainer or not, even whether your dog needs behaviour change or not. These skills are needed for communication. They enrich the life of the dog and help when they need husbandry or care when not well. Learning to use a clicker, a marker, rewards and motivate your dog is an absolutely crucial part of dog guardianship.