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Positive reinforcement training

dvm360dvm360 November 2023
Volume 54
Issue 11
Pages: 34

New owners can positively enforce their pets’ household behavior and enrich the environment their pet is in



When pets are brought into a household with a new family, the goal is a well-behaved and trained pet. The Humane Society of the United States discusses ways to guide pet owners along their journey, by bearing in mind the timing of the praise and reward for positive behavior, training words, and the use of the proper reward.1 The American Kennel Club addresses positive reinforcement as animal learning, and the invaluable effects of utilizing this method in training.2 As mentioned above, there are key aspects of positive reinforcement to keep in mind. The results will be mutually beneficial to the pet and pet owner. This training can be used for sit, stay, and lay down commands but also not barking at strangers outside or to remain in the house when the door opens.


A new pet may be excited, overwhelmed, or even scared at first in a new home. It is vitally important to utilize a reward system and/or phrase immediately after the desired behavior. Often a pet's attention is diverted quickly to another engaging distraction, a quick and attentive praise and a reward system allows the pet the ability to acknowledge which behavior is requested of them. This also includes not rewarding undesired responses or behaviors just as timely.

Simple phrases

When giving praise, aim to use quick, short phrases that are easy to comprehend and directly related to the goal behavior. If pet parents tell their pet good job but add additional words to explain what they did a good job for, the message could get misinterpreted or distorted. Pet parents should keep in mind that they may need to encourage their pet to sit prior to them learning the word command. Often pets do not know what the direct correlation is with a command and action without demonstration. To do so, pet parents can gently guide them to a sit and after a few repeated efforts they can begin to give the command of sit, stay, or lay down based on the desired response.

Be consistent

Consistency is key when it comes to effective training. To create a clear communication system for a pet, it is important for all family members to use the same commands and cues for the same desired behavior. Each member should also reward the pet each time the desired behavior is demonstrated. This consistency helps pets understand what is expected of them and reduces confusion.

Types of rewards

When using treats as a reward, clients should use something they desire and find exciting every time it is offered to them. Make sure to keep it small. Rewarding can happen multiple times a day and these can add up in calories. The goal is a quick eat and look to you for more. The same goes for their favorite toy or game. A more excited voice when giving praise will also help them differentiate when they have done something good.

The Humane Society of the United States can provide a link for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers should a pet owner seek a trainer that utilizes positive reinforcement with their training program.1 Certain dog breeds love organization and direction, utilizing positive reinforcement training, these breeds can view this more as a job for them and will create more excitement around it.

Denise Pancari, DVM is a small animal veterinarian and the Co-owner and Partner Doctor with Heart + Paw at Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach on Long Island, NY. Dr. Pancari focuses on preventative care medicine, to help guide her pet owners through each stage of their pet’s life. She additionally prides herself on a positive hospital and work environment for her patients, clients, and staff.


  1. Positive reinforcement training. The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed August 22, 2023. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/positive-reinforcement-training
  2. Gibeault S. Positive reinforcement dog training: The science behind operant conditioning. American Kennel Club. Published June 16, 2021. Accessed August 22, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/operant-conditioning-the-science-behind-positive-reinforcement-dog-training
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