How to Positively Reinforce a Dog to Stop Doing Something

by Pauline Gill
Use a clicker along with a treat to help with timing.

Use a clicker along with a treat to help with timing.

Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Chewing your shoes, bolting out the door ahead of you and jumping up to greet you may not be your favorite doggie behaviors. The concept of positive reinforcement is a powerful tool when training your dog to stop unwanted actions. It's a simple concept of giving your dog a treat, praise or toy for positive behavior. If you want positive reinforcement to work, consistency is important, timing is crucial and the type of reward is essential.

Step 1

Discover what motivates your pup. Not all dogs are big eaters, so a treat has to be something they really love. Consider small pieces of meat the size of a pencil eraser. Along with a special treat, add some praise. Some pups love to hear your voice and others want to be petted.

Step 2

Teach your dog one- or two-word commands. Teaching your pup to sit, stay, come, heel or leave it, reinforces what you expect from him. Use treats when teaching the commands. If your pup learns to sit before going outside instead of stampeding out the door, or to sit when you come through the door instead of jumping, you have used positive reinforcement to stop unwanted behavior.

Step 3

Reward him immediately. If you are teaching him to sit, reward him before he stands up again. The reward must occur at the exact time he sits, or he will not be able to associate the treat or praise with the action.

Step 4

Redirect his focus with positive reinforcement. If you catch him chewing on your shoe, take the shoe away, say "no," and give him a chew toy. Do not scold. Instead, praise him when he accepts the toy. The next time he is chewing his toy, pat him and praise him. He will associate the positive reinforcement with what is correct behavior.

Step 5

Use consistency. Make sure all members of the family use the same command words. Emphasize that only positive behavior is rewarded.

Step 6

Continue to use reinforcement intermittently once your dog learns the behavior. Reward him three out of four times and then every other time until the reward is occasional. Instead of the food treat, praise such as "good boy," may be enough.

Step 7

Walk and play with your dog daily. This is a part of positive reinforcement, but it also tires your dog so he is less likely to have unacceptable behavior.

Items You Will Need

  • Small pieces of meat
  • Chew toys

Tip

  • Combine a positive motivator with a negative motivator. If your pup pulls on the leash, stop and don't move forward. This is a negative motivator but necessary. Once he is walking beside you, you can praise him, a positive motivator.

Warning

  • Never cause harm or pain. Negative motivators should be firm actions, not abusive actions.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

About the Author

Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.

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