What Is Positive Reinforcement?


Positive reinforcement is the addition of a pleasant consequence that increases behavior.

Behaviors that are positively reinforced will increase (or maintain at its current level) over time, meaning an animal will attempt the same behavior again if it worked for him to earn something desirable. The reward is a consequence for the behavior, and a reason to perform the behavior again.

Rewards can consist of anything your dog or cat wants, including food, treats, toys, an opportunity to sniff something or greet a person/animal, or a walk outside the home.

Sometimes we intend to positively reinforce a behavior, but the reward we give at that specific time is not desired by our pet, so it doesn’t act as true reinforcement, and the behavior isn’t offered at an increased rate.

Therefore, it’s important to understand it’s the learner, the pet, who gets to decide whether a reward is reinforcing to him.

And just like with people, our pets can like certain foods sometimes and not as much other times. They have their individual preferences, they can feel like playing more than eating, or vice versa at any given time, so we can incorporate this knowledge into how we train our pets.

How Long Will Training Take?

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Factors that affect behavior can include your pet’s genetics, socialization history, environmental effects, client compliance to their trainer’s instructions, how long your pet has been reinforced for performing the problem behavior, your pet’s health/diet, and the severity of the problem. Usually emotionally upset pets with fear, anxiety, or aggression will take longer to modify their behavior than not-upset pets.

In addition, how much skilled training occurs can affect behavior. In other words perfect practice leads to improved pet behavior. So the number of paid sessions with your professional trainer can correlate to how much/how quickly you can take over and train/manage the behavior following your assigned training plans.

Furthermore, everyone has different goals. Some people would like behavior responses to be as close to 100% percent correct responding as possible, and others may need above average responding to cue signals. Sometimes a single session with a trainer is enough when management techniques can solve the issue, other times people may want to continue training regularly for enrichment purposes to add some fun to their dog or cat’s life, or to get the best trained pet possible.

In general, more professional training will equal better behavior.

Please note: animals are living creatures that are in control of their own behavior, and this means there is no one-hundred percent accuracy of any behavior during or after training. Behavior variation naturally occurs.

It is therefore unethical for professional animal trainers to guarantee behavior outcomes, and those that do should be avoided.