7 Powerful Methods of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Positive reinforcement dog training methods operate on 7 key principals.

Learn to master them and you're dog will greatly benefit!

  1. Prey Drive

Prey drive is a dog’s built in genetic desire to chase small things.  After all, chasing down small animals and game is how dogs have survived all these years; so it makes sense that there’s a hard-coded genetic behavior that makes dogs want to chase things.

That’s why you have dogs that LOVE to chase cats, chickens, balls, cars, kids on bikes and practically anything else that moves 😉

For dogs that have strong pretty drive and love to chase things, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because your dog can be trained to literally do ANYTHING, if it means chasing something like his favorite ball.  But if not taught how to control this desire it can turn into an obsession and develop into a really undesired behavior.  For example, I rescued the Chocolate Lab in the video below, who’s previous owners had built up my Labs prey drive; but completely neglected to teach him how to control it.

The result, was a dog who would uncontrollably bark at any moving ball, whether it was one I’d just thrown or one being thrown to another dog 100 yards away on the far side of a park.

As the video shows, if you are clever, you can set up positive reinforcement dog training games like this one, that teach your dog how to control his emotional outbursts to get his reward.  This method allows the dog to learn what we want him to do WITHOUT having to resort to negative, aversive methods and techniques to fix your dog’s behavioral problems.

To see the entire process for how I finally trained this dog to control his prey drive click here.

Here’s the thing with prey drive though…

While the dog in the above video had TOO much prey drive, and we had to teach him how to control it, some dogs have practically NONE.  And this can be a big problem too, because if this type of dog is not food motivated, or prey drive motivated many trainers end up feeling like they have no way of motivating their dog to obey.

They’ll say things like “My dog doesn’t like to chase a ball”

But what they don’t know is that this drive can be TRAINED!  We call it building Play Drive, and its one of our favorite positive reinforcement dog training techniques to use on certain types of dogs.

It's taught be using what we call flirt poles, to get your dog excited to play games of chase, but in a way we can control.

Once you’ve built up some prey drive in your dog it allows you to use that drive as a powerful motivator when out and about with your dog in public.  If you’ve got the kind of dog that likes to run off towards animals like squirrels or cats, taking the time to build this prey drive into your dog allows you a replacement reward that you can give your dog for ignoring squirrels and cats; because you can train your dog to learn to anticipate a fun game of tug or chase with a flirt pole, whenever it sees squirrels or bunnies.

Done consistently enough your dog can be trained to no longer want to chase bunnies, but to realize that the sight of a bunny or cat means he gets to play a fun game with YOU.  It’s a VERY powerful bit of reverse psychology that’s one of our favorite positive reinforcement dog training techniques.

  1. Exercise

Many dogs LIVE for exercise, whether that’s a simple walk, going out for a run, or the desire to pull (like Huskies who were bred for sled dog work).  Dogs with this type of primary motivation often whine, bark and get overly excited whenever they anticipate that they’re about to get some exercise.

Dog’s that have this as a primary motivation need to be managed in one of two ways.

First… you need to live by this rule:

Seriously, if your dog is the kind of dog who starts to freak out, spin around and whine whenever you go to grab your car keys… PUT the car keys back if your dog whines.  Otherwise you are LITERALLY training your dog to whine!  So many problem behaviors are ingrained this way.  Owners give in to their young puppies desires early on, and then are surprised when their pup grows up into a dog who has behavior problems.

It’s ok if your dog gets excited, but it has to be done appropriately.  Your dog needs to behave through the entire process of anticipating exercise.

Basically if at any point your dog whines, you do what we call “work backwards”.  If your dog starts whining as you pull the car out of the driveway… pull it back in, get him out of the car, shut the door and try again.  Make it your mission to be able to back out of the driveway with a quiet dog.

The same goes for any other step too.  If your dog whines when you grab your coat or keys, put them back and try again in 30 seconds.  Don’t just yell at your dog, but still reward him with a fun walk.

This is one of those positive reinforcement dog training techniques that can be used to fix a lot of other unwanted behaviors in your dog too.  Like how I used it to get this Golden Retriever to stop barking at me whenever he was tied up:

That’s how you can use your dog’s exercise motivation to get him to behave.

  1. Petting

Many people don’t realize that if you have a dog who likes to jump up on you or guests who come over to your home; or the type of dog who is just a bubble invader… you likely have a dog with a petting motivation that you can use to your advantage.

If you have a dog like this there’s a very simple game you can start to play that will train your dog to sit at the feet of anyone he wants to be pet by, instead of jumping up on them or rubbing his wet nose on their hand.

It’s called the ‘Sit For Pet’s rule and it’s my FAVORITE puppy training game for getting puppies to stop jumping up; and it works great for older dogs too.

Basically, you teach your dog that you don’t get pet if you’re begging for pets in a way that’s annoying and invasive.  Instead you need to sit for pets.

If you’re consistent with this enough, your dog will run over to new guests and sit at their feet.  As a bonus tip, teach your dog to read the hand cue of hand out for petting.  This is a universal cue that all people who might want to pet your dog give to dogs.  So by teaching him to sit when he sees it, your dog will start to sit for EVERYONE who has an interest in petting him.

One tool that can make this easier, is an automatic treat dispenser.  By having one of these loaded up with treats, you can hit a button when your dog sits for guests who come over, and the machine makes a beep noise, letting your dog know he's earned a treat, without having to run to the fridge every time.

This works so well, that it is VERY common to have the postman come up to my house, and see all my dogs sitting at his feet waiting for pets.  It works, TRY IT!

  1. Freedom

Freedom is another powerful motivator.  Dog’s love to charge out into open space, run down a road, take off into the woods or dive into a pond.  They were born to be free.

One way that you can use a dog’s freedom motivation in your dog’s life every day, is when it comes to going through doors.  Dog’s with a high FREEDOM motivation often act like a ballistic missile that seems like its aimed at your knee caps.

This is unacceptable dog behavior, and can be dangerous for the elderly or young children; not to mention ANNOYING!!!

Fortunately for you, but unfortunately for me, I was stuck house sitting a dog that had this problem a while back and decided to shoot a video on how I fixed this dog’s door barging habit in just a few minutes.  It shows you how to teach your dog to make eye contact with you, if it wants you to open the door, instead of being laser focused on the opening crack of the door.

  • Play

An often over looked form of motivating your dog to stop doing unwanted behaviors is play.  Recently I was travelling through the Portland Airport, (a GREAT airport by the way)… and the reason they are so great is because they use working Drug & Bomb dogs to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to checking for explosives or dangerous materials that may be coming into their airport.

These drug dogs will, go back and forth sniffing people for hours, and the ONLY tool their handlers use to motivate the dog to do the behaviors he wanted, was a quick 30 second game of tug every 15-20 minutes.

Of course, there’s a process to building up a dog’s desire to do a behavior for that long of a period of time, where he’s willing to work that hard for a game of tug, but none the less, that’s what he was working for.  Just a quick game of tug with his owner.

This is a POWERFUL tool for motivating your dog, (especially a young puppy with lots of energy to burn) and is especially helpful when you need your dog to behave for long periods of time.

  1. Treats

When it comes to using treats to get dogs to behave, dog owners often make the mistake of thinking that by using treats as a way to motivate your dog, you make it so he’ll only obey you when treats are present.

This is NOT a problem if you use a concept that we call Random Rewarding.

Random Rewarding works on dogs using the same psychology that Las Vegas slot machines use to train humans to ignore their fear of losing money and convert that fear into a hopeful excitement about possibly winning money.  Even though that reward is RARELY given 😉

Just like a slot machine addicts people by giving you a combination of small rewards, no rewards and BIG rewards at random times… by randomizing when and what types of treats you give your dog when he does something, and randomizing how long it takes you to give him a treat, you can train dogs to work for long periods of time without any food present.

By randomizing when you give rewards using a process like our ‘Simon Say’s’ process that we teach in our Hands Off Dog training course, you end up training the dog to obey you without having to have food treats on you.  The treats can just sit in a ‘Dog Cookie Jar’ on the counter!  By teaching the dog that the treats come from the counter, and not in a ‘bait bag’ attached to your person, dogs quickly learn that they need to obey you whether or not they can smell treats on you, because they know there are treats on the counter in the other room.

By ingraining the pattern of going to the ‘cookie jar’ enough times, after your dog has done a behavior you’ve asked him to do, you can easily train a dog to work for treats, without always having to have the treats on you.  It’s definitely one of my favorite motivating tools for positive reinforcement dog training.

For example, let’s say you have a puppy who doesn’t like to come when he’s called, and instead likes to run off in the other direction.  Puppies do this, because they have a fear based around the idea that if they come to you, you will make their playtime STOP.

So if you don’t give your dog some type of reward after he comes when you call, you are literally PUNISHING YOUR DOG and making him less likely to obey you the next time you call. But if you start to randomly give your dog treats from the counter every time he comes, it will convert that fear from always being on his mind, to HOPEFUL thoughts about whether or not he’ll get a treat this time.

Are you starting to see how different animal behaviors require different motivators to change?

Positive reinforcement dog training isn’t just about relying on verbal praise and petting to get dog obedience.  Those types training programs will only work on the most basic obedience behaviors, and won’t help you ever get an excited puppy to listen, or help you counteract a dog who’s in an environment FULL of distractions.

It requires you to set boundaries too.  It just does so in a way that gives and takes away the things that your dog wants most in his life, as the tool for getting obedience, instead of using punishment based methods that have been proven to create fear & learned helplessness.

Plus, it Goes Even Deeper

Each of these motivating factors has several different ways theycan be used.  Sometimes the motivator is given, and sometimes its taken away and each type has its strengths and weaknesses.  Some techniques are better at getting dogs to work harder and be more patient, while other motivators are best used if you want your dog to stop doing a bad behavior.

However, you need to realize that even if you perfectly align your dog's training goals with the proper motivation, there are several mistakes many dog owners often make, that undo their dog's progress.

Here's a list of the 31 most common dog training mistakes.  Make sure you read through this list and really CHECK yourself, to make sure you're not making any of them.

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