Top 5 Ways to Use Positive Reinforcement to Reward a Dog

Flying Toller
@Hans Surfer / Getty Images

Using positive reinforcement is one of the easiest ways to train a dog. When training with the positive reinforcement method, you give the dog a reward to reinforce a behavior you like. For instance, if you ask your dog to sit, and he does it, you give him a treat. You're rewarding his good behavior.

Knowing which rewards your dog finds motivating can help make reward-based training fun and interesting for both you and your dog. There are several great ways to reward a dog's good behavior.

  • 01 of 05


    Woman Feeding Dog Biscuit to Her Dog
    Studio Paggy/Getty Images

    Food rewards are what most people see when they think of positive reinforcement. Treats are fast and easy to dispense, and they're a great way to reward a behavior immediately. If you use clicker training, it's easy to make sure your dog receives a treat the instant he performs a specific behavior. Treats are perfect for training sessions when you are trying to get a dog to repeat a certain behavior in rapid succession.

    The downside of using treats to reward a dog is that it's not always convenient to carry treats around. It can also be an issue if you're working with a dog with food allergies, a ​weight problem, or digestive issues. 

  • 02 of 05


    Dog and Owner Play Tug of War

    Ryan McVay/Getty Images

    Games are another fun way to reward your dog. You can initiate a game your dog enjoys when your dog does something you like. Games are used in much like food in positive reinforcement training. Ask your dog to do something, and as soon as he does what you asked, you initiate a game. Some great game options include tug-of-war and fetch.

    It's easy to sneak a training session into a game of tug-of-war or fetch, too. Pull out a tug toy or ball. Ask your dog to sit before the game begins. As soon as he sits, offer him the toy and begin playing. During the game, give your dog the "leave it" command. Once he lets go, ask him to lie down. As soon as he's lying down, offer him the toy or throw the ball. This is a fun way to reinforce your dog's training.

  • 03 of 05

    Attention From You

    Dog and Owner Hug

    Marcy Maloy/Getty Images

    Most dogs love nothing better than having some snuggle time, praise, and other types of attention from you. Your undivided attention can be used as a reward for when your dog is well behaved.

    One way you can do this is to wait until your dog comes to you for some petting. Instead of lavishing him with attention immediately, ask him to work for it first. For instance, you can ask him to sit or lie down. When he does as you request, give him some snuggle time. If he doesn't, step away for a few seconds, then return and give him the command again. Your dog will quickly learn that certain behaviors get him lots of your attention.

  • 04 of 05

    Access to the Outdoors

    Saint Bernard Dog Breed


    Most dogs love being outside. There are new smells, interesting sights, and all kinds of things to explore. If your dog loves the outdoors, you can use this as part of your positive reinforcement training program.

    Housebreaking is a great way to use this type of reward. Take your dog or puppy outside on a leash to the spot where you want him to relieve himself. Don't allow him to explore. Just stay in the same spot. If he doesn't relieve himself, take him back inside and try again a little later. If he does relieve himself, praise him and take him for a walk around the neighborhood, allowing him to stop and sniff and explore as often as he likes. Soon your dog will learn that he'll get to spend time outside only after relieving himself in the right spot.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Playtime With Other Dogs

    dogs having fun


    Jennifer A Smith / Getty Images

    Many dogs love to play with other dogs. You can use access to other dogs as a reward for good behavior. For instance, take a trip to your local dog park. Have your dog wait until you permit him to jump out of the car. Ask him to sit or wait again before you open the gate to allow him access to the other dogs. You can wait for him or return to the car if he doesn't comply. As soon as your dog learns that responding to your commands is the only way he'll get playtime with other dogs, he will begin offering these behaviors.