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Why Positive Reinforcement For Dogs Is Important When Traveling

positive reinforcement for dogs

Perhaps the one thing stopping you from traveling with your dog is their behavior. Managing your dog during a trip is similar to caring for a child. They have needs, their moods can change, and you have to be more sensitive to your surroundings as you don’t want your dog to be in danger or a disturbance to the people around you. Bad or unwanted behavior can undoubtedly make a trip much harder. But remember: Dogs will be dogs! It is inevitable they will bark, whine, etc. Just as children cry, dogs will also resort to their natural behaviors to try to communicate with us. Rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviors, try rewarding them for desired behavior instead which is a training method known as positive reinforcement.

“Teach your pup desirable behaviors by introducing a positive stimulus after your dog performs those behaviors (like giving your dog a treat if they’re treat-motivated or petting and praise). Using this method, reinforce the behavior you want to see more of (e.g. sitting) and your dog will more likely behave in a way you want in the future.” (Source)


Why positive reinforcement?

“Because the reward makes them more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.” (Source)

positive reinforcement for dogs

Negative reinforcement is “the process of removing an undesirable stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior”. Research has shown that negative reinforcement was much more likely to cause symptoms of stress in dogs compared to positive reinforcement. Using negative reinforcement can include force, shock collars, yelling, etc. Positive reinforcement encourages a stronger connection between human and canine, many times through eye contact during training and other situations, and promotes a healthier canine-human relationship. For a more in-depth explanation of negative reinforcement, check out this article.


How to practice positive reinforcement:

  • Timing and consistency is key

Positive reinforcement or rewarding must happen almost immediately following the desired action so your dog is clear on what they are getting rewarded for. Make sure you are never rewarding unwanted behaviors!

  • Shaping behavior

Shaping behavior is a long-term commitment, unlike teaching your dog a trick. Positive reinforcement is very effective in teaching your dog tricks (e.g. giving them a treat right when they obey a command), but shaping behavior will require more steps and patience. Your dog should know basic commands like sit, wait, stay, etc. before moving onto behaviors like impulse control. You can do this by reinforcing something close to the desired response and then gradually requiring more from your dog before they get a treat.

positive reinforcement for dogs
positive reinforcement for dogs
  • Types of rewards

Most dogs are super food-motivated but you can mix it up with praise and play, depending on what your dog responds to best. Make sure your treats are small (about pea-sized preferably) and not something they can gnaw on or break into pieces. Small treats will keep your pup engaged and make reinforcement quicker and more effective.

We recommend pairing a verbal cue like “good boy” along with a treat so they will understand they are behaving well when you praise them, even in the absence of a treat. Dogs are highly intelligent and do not wish to make us upset! Using a verbal cue when your dog is behaving well will indicate to your pup that you like what they are doing and will encourage them to keep doing it.

  • Create an environment for positive reinforcement

Eliminating distractions will really help your dog stay engaged with you and stay on track with training. Don’t attempt to employ positive reinforcement on your first trip together. Chances are your dog will be way too distracted and excited by the new environment to want to listen to you. However, practicing reinforcement is something you can do anywhere… Just have your treats on deck!

The beauty of positive reinforcement is that you and your dog will eventually get to a place where good behavior is natural for them and fewer rewards will be necessary to encourage your dog to behave. This is especially crucial for traveling and will establish a stronger connection between you and your dog. Once you both are familiar with positive reinforcement (remember, dogs thrive under routine), it will be much more pleasant to travel together!

Has positive reinforcement helped you and your pup while traveling? What are some other tips that make dog-friendly travel easier for you? Comment below! Don’t forget to sign up here to get the latest on dog-friendly travel news and updates.

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