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Praise, the Right Way





The all positive school of dog training, of which I'm not a student, stresses praising your dog when he performs a command ('sit') correctly. I'm all for that but too often, the all-positive school doesn't explain there is a right and wrong approach to praise your dog.

The wrong way is using a stream of chatter, constantly praising regardless of what the dog is doing and not timing the praise properly to his behavior.

First, understand your dog's temperament

Not all dogs are alike (obviously) even in personality. For example, a high energy terrier needs to be praised in a calm tone of voice. Any hint of excitement in his owner's voice may over stimulate a high strung, high energy dog. On the other hand, a laid back spaniel may need to hear a bit of excitement in his owner's voice.

Some dogs also appreciate touch as well as verbal praise; some dogs don't.

A puppy may not like being touched too often while a more businesslike dog won't appreciate the distraction. The latter, performing complicated commands or training such as agility, will be distracted by touching so it's best to rely only on vocal praises.

How do you tell what your dog likes?

Read his body language. If you are praising and petting him is he leaning into you with a relaxed body and open eyes?. Or, is he leaning away, avoiding looking at you and seemingly trying to back away?

If you've had your dog for any length of time, you should be able to tell when he's tail-wagging happy and when he's not.

Use praise so it makes sense to your dog

If you are nonstop praising him, how is he supposed to tie the praise to his behavior? It won't make any sense to him and he won't know if his behavior is good or bad. Your dog wants to please you, but you must give him verbal clues so he knows what to do.

Too often, owners who praise constantly then overreact with yelling and screaming when their poor dog does something wrong.

Vary your praise

Use a simple 'good dog' when he sits and more lavish praise "what a good dog, you are better than Lassie ever was, etc." when he does something more complex such as completing a command like 'leave it.'

Your dog may tune out your praise if you're speaking all the time. He should learn that silence from you is a good thing and the norm. Only when he responds to a command is he praised.

Time your praise to the command

Don't start 'good dog' right after you give a command. If you're teaching 'down' or 'stay,' praise him as soon as his little rear end hits the floor. Don't wait until he gets up or he will associate praise with the end of the training rather than the training command itself.


The behavior you praise will be the behavior you reinforce in your dog.

Praise your dog when he performs the command you've given him and make sure you are neither praising too soon nor too late to the actual behavior.

Soon, you'll have a well-adjusted, well behaved dog. Don't be surprised if friends start asking you for dog-training advice.

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