Training with rewards and positive reinforcement

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You might have heard of positive reinforcement, but have you tried this effective training technique with your dog yet? Discover everything you need to know to get started in the Dogs Trust Guide to Positive Reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is a kind, fun, and effective way to train your dog. This technique helps you teach new behaviours by giving your dog a reward when they carry out the specific behaviour you’ve asked for.

Watch our video below to find out how to discover your dog’s favourite reward.

What is positive reinforcement and reward-based dog training?

Dogs love rewards! Whether that’s food, toys, or a verbal reward, giving your dog a reward when they make a good choice can be a powerful motivator. Positive reinforcement is all about teaching your dog good things happen as a direct result of the good choice they’ve just made.

As your dog starts to associate their reward with the behaviour they just completed, they’ll be more likely to do the same thing again next time.

What are the benefits of positive reinforcement dog training?

Using reward-based training methods is the best way to encourage your dog to behave the way you would like. There are many benefits to using training with rewards, including:

  • It helps build a positive bond between you and your dog.
  • Owners who use positive reinforcement report fewer behavioural problems.
  • Reward-based training helps to build your dog’s confidence and encourage them to think for themselves.
  • This method is scientifically backed as the most effective way for dogs to learn.

What can be used as a reward?

All dogs are different so will naturally find different things rewarding. The key is to find the one that your dog likes best; you can watch our video above to find out how to discover your dog’s favourite reward.

Your dog is an individual, so their motivators will be unique to them. However, most dogs enjoy either food, toys or our attention! Whatever you choose needs to be safe for your dog and something they like.


Many dogs are food-oriented and will be very motivated to learn new behaviours if there’s the chance of a tasty treat! When training, it’s a good idea to use a blend of high and low value food rewards. High-value rewards can be things like mild cheddar cheese, sausage, a homemade treat, or cooked chicken. Chop these up into fingernail-sized pieces and use them when training new techniques or to keep your dog’s focus and attention in a challenging environment with lots of distractions. 

Low-value rewards like your dog’s normal dried food or small pieces of vegetable can be used when a behaviour is easy for your dog to get right, for example when practising a cue they know well in a quiet environment. 

If you do use food as a reward during training sessions, remember to account for the extra calories and reduce your dog’s daily rations accordingly. 


Some dogs are more motivated by play than food, so offering a quick game of fetch or tug with their favourite toy as a reward for good behaviour can work very well. You can also use positive reinforcement to teach your dog how to release their toys when you ask, so you can get the most out of your training sessions.


Don’t underestimate how valuable your attention is to your dog! Many dogs love it when we look at, touch, or talk to them. That means our attention can constantly influence their behaviour and you can harness this effect during your training sessions.

Remember that even negative attention can sometimes be reinforcing and can act as an unintentional reward. For example, if you’re asking your dog not to jump up, the very fact that your dog is getting attention might encourage them to continue that behaviour. Make sure you give your dog your attention when they’re doing something you do want them to do, rather than the other way around.


Rewards can be anything your dog loves! Sometimes, things like going off lead, foraging for treats, a quick game, sniffing or playing with other dogs will be a great motivator and reward.

How to train a dog using positive reinforcement and rewards

Ready to start training? Find the answers to some frequently asked questions, plus positive reinforcement dog training tips to get you started.

When can I use positive reinforcement?

Anytime, anywhere! Whenever you’re happy with your dog’s behaviour, let them know by rewarding them. If you’re praising them for calm and quiet behaviour, give them a reward like a gentle fuss, a treat or some quiet verbal praise so they don’t get overexcited. If you’re working on recall training while you’re out and about, then a reward of an energetic game or a high-value treat could be more appropriate. As long as your dog is enjoying it — it’s a reward! 

Sometimes your dog may need a different type of reward. They may find a specific behaviour easy in the calmness of your own home, but much more challenging in a busy environment like the dog park. In these situations, switch to a more tempting reward like a piece of their favourite sausage or a particular toy you know they love.

As you become more confident when training, you’ll get a better idea of the things your dog loves and how to use these as rewards in a range of scenarios.

What can I teach my dog using positive reinforcement?

This training technique can be used to teach your dog any behaviour you like! Crate training, nice walking, house training and so much more - it’s all possible with positive reinforcement. 

It’s a good idea to start with the basics and build your way up to more complex cues. When you start teaching your dog a new behaviour, it’s important that you reward them every single time they succeed. Once they’ve learnt the new behaviour and can complete it in a variety of environments, you can start switching up the type of reward you offer. For example, if you’ve been using high-value rewards, switch to verbal praise or low-value treats instead. By mixing and matching the rewards, you can keep your dog’s interest as they’ll never know what to expect.

Top tips

  • Remember, the bigger the challenge, the better the reward!
  • Always keep an eye out for the behaviours you like and make sure you reward your dog whenever you see them.
  • Ignore the behaviours you don’t like, and help to guide them to make a “good” decision, using rewards to praise them when they get it right.
  • Once you’ve found your dog’s favourite reward, the world is your oyster! Head to our article on basic training to find out how to put your findings into practice.
  • When it comes to using markers, consistency is key to avoid confusing your dog.
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What is a marker?

A marker is a clear signal used in training to tell your dog ‘yes, you got it right!’ It’s usually a noise (such as a clicker) or word (yes!), but can also be a hand signal. This should pinpoint the exact moment your dog carries out the behaviour that you’re trying to teach them.

The delivery of the marker tells your dog that their reward is on the way, but also helps them connect that reward with the specific behaviour they were completing when you used the marker. Once your dog understands this, they’re much more likely to repeat the behaviour in the hopes of receiving another reward.

Here are some of the options you can use as your marker:

  • Vocal. Choose a specific word to act as your marker. Some people say ‘yes’ or ‘good’. Make sure you choose a word your dog is unlikely to hear at other times, or they may become confused. If using a vocal marker stay consistent and say your marker word the same way every single time.
  • Mechanical. You can buy a small handheld clicker that makes a click when you press it. Some owners also use whistles. The benefit of using mechanical markers is that they sound the same to your dog every time, unlike a vocal signal that can change in tone, pitch and volume.
  • Visual. Some dogs will respond better to an obvious hand signal like a thumbs-up. A visual marker can be particularly useful when training deaf dogs.

How do I introduce the marker to my dog?

The first thing to do when starting to use positive reinforcement training methods is to introduce your dog to your chosen marker. This helps teach them that hearing or seeing the marker means something good is on the way!

Use your marker, and then give your dog a high-value treat. Repeat this a few times over a range of short training sessions. Once your dog is responding to the marker and anticipating a treat when they hear it, you’re ready to start using the marker to teach them specific behaviours!

Positive reinforcement and reward-based training makes learning new cues fun! Rewarding good behaviour helps maintain your dog’s enthusiasm and as a result, they’ll be happier to engage in training sessions that you both get more out of.

If you’re ready to start using positive reinforcement, learn more about how to train specific behaviours in our Dog Training: The Basics article.

About Dogs Trust Dog School

Dogs Trust Dog School is a national network of experienced dog trainers providing educational courses and dog training based on up-to-date scientific research for all owners. They are passionate about dog behaviour, and want to help you train your puppy or dog to fit happily into your family life. Dogs Trust Dog School provides fun and educational training classes for you and your dog.

Dogs Trust Dog School prevents relinquishment by equipping the owners of more than 20,000 dogs with the tools to prevent unwanted behaviours from occurring. They enable owners to understand their pooch and enhance the bond with their dog through reward-based methods.

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