Reward training (which is sometimes also called lure training) is a very effective training technique for teaching dogs a number of desired behaviors. And, in addition to being highly effective, reward training is an easy, fun method to use. This particular training technique provides much quicker, more dependable results than methods that rely heavily on scolding, corrections or punishment, and it does it in a way that’s much more positive for both you and your dog.
Because reward training is so effective, it’s currently one of the most popular dog training techniques. At its heart, reward training works because you reward your dog with a treat or tidbit of food whenever he does what you ask. Most owners accompany the food reward with verbal praise. The food and praise are positive reinforcement which helps your dog learn to associate the action he performed with good things (food and praise) and encourages him to repeat that behavior again.
In addition to being effective, reward training provides a much more positive training atmosphere than some other training techniques. Because it’s a reward-based method, you reward your dog whenever he does as you ask. Scolding, striking, punishing or correcting your dog for not following your command is never used in reward training. You simply reward and reinforce the actions you do want your dog to perform. This positive reinforcement makes reward training a much more pleasant experience for owners and dogs than punishing him.
You do need to be careful to only give your dog treats at the right time during training sessions, however. If the timing of the rewards is unrelated to your dog doing as you ask, he’ll get confused about what you want, and he might even start thinking he’ll get treats no matter what. So, make sure you only reward your dog for doing something right.
In some ways, reward training is the opposite of aversive dog training, where dogs are trained to associate undesirable behaviors with negative reinforcement such as scolding, corrections or outright punishment. The negative reinforcement stops when the dog performs the desired behavior. In theory, this process discourages dogs from repeating unwanted actions and trains them to do what owners want, but in the long run it’s an unpleasant process and not nearly as effective as reward training. Instead of punishing your dog for what he does wrong, reward training lets you show your dog what you want him to do and then reward him when he does it.
Take housetraining, for example. The two methods approach the task in significantly different ways. There are a multitude of places a dog could relieve himself inside the house, and they’re all unacceptable. If you used aversive training techniques, you’d need to wait for your dog to eliminate somewhere in the house and then correct him when he does. Think about this for a minute. Isn’t it unfair to punish your dog before he’s had a chance to learn your rules? And, you need to realize that using this method for housetraining can require numerous corrections and a lot of time. Isn’t it quicker, easier and more effective to simply show your dog the right place to relieve himself and then reward him when he uses it?
There’s another reason why reward training produces better results than aversive training. Consistency is essential when you’re training a dog. If you’re using corrections and punishment to discourage unwanted behavior, you’ll need to consistently punish your dog each and every time he performs that behavior. Well, we’re not robots, and it’s impossible to be ready to do this every minute of the day. You’d need to never leave home and never take your eyes off your dog before you’d even have a chance of punishing him every time he makes a behavioral mistake. Make one slip-up and fail to punish your dog for a mistake, and he’ll learn that sometimes he can get away with the misbehavior. That’s probably not the lesson you want him to learn.
Unlike aversive training, reward training doesn’t require you to be infallibly consistent in your reactions to your dog’s misbehaviors. You don’t need to reward your dog every time he does as you ask – in fact, he’ll learn just as quickly (if not more so) if the rewards he receives for desired behavior are intermittent and unpredictable instead of being given every time he performs the behavior. And, above all, if you make mistakes with aversive training you risk losing your dog’s trust. That won’t happen with reward training, where mistakes might temporarily confuse your dog, but they won’t cause him to become aggressive or fear or mistrust you.
In addition to housetraining your dog, you can use reward training to teach him a number of obedience commands (“sit,” “stay,” “come” and “down,” for example) and an assortment of fun tricks. But you can also discourage problem behaviors with reward training. For example, if you want to train your dog not to chew on your socks, teach him what he is allowed to chew (a toy, for example), and then reward him when he chews on it. Or, if you want your dog to stop jumping up on your guests when they come through your door, teach him to sit when visitors arrive and reward him for that behavior.
Although some owners don’t like reward training because they think dogs trained this way follow their commands simply because they want a treat and not out of a sense of obedience or respect, there’s no question that reward training is effective. And, even if you accept the premise that dogs learn from reward training strictly because they’re being “bribed,” isn’t that better than obeying out of a fear of punishment? Not only that, but treats aren’t the only type of reward that can be used as positive reinforcement. Praising your dog with an excited, happy tone of voice, giving him toys, and giving him lots of physical affection can all be just as motivating as giving him treats or food.
I know how it can be tough and time consuming to train a dog. With patience and consistency you will be able to put an end to all your dog’s “problems” but you need to do it the right way.