The term "positive reinforcement" is thrown around a whole bunch on the SideKick Dog Training website (there's even a little corner of the website that defines positive reinforcement).
But, what is positive reinforcement really all about?
To begin any discussion of positive reinforcement, it's important to first define the two words in the phrase as they relate to dog training:
Positive means that something - usually something pleasant - is being added.
Reinforcement means that a specific behavior increases.
Put together, something pleasant is given to someone for a specific behavior to increase the likelihood that the behavior will happen again.
When you show up to work, you get a paycheck every other Friday; so you keep going to work.
If someone gave me a $20 bill every time I touched my nose, I'd bruise my nose touching it so often.
When you're teaching your SideKick to sit, they get a tasty treat every time their toosh touches the floor; so, your dog is going to offer a sit more and more.
What should be used for reinforcement?
Reinforcement comes in many forms because it can be anything your SideKick likes! A pretty good portion of the time, we use food as the main reward or reinforcement - and for good reasons:
All dogs need food;
Most dogs like a big variety of foods;
Food is easy to carry;
And it's easy to deliver quickly.
But, if your SideKick is a picky eater, has food allergies, or the training scenario isn't a good fit for food rewards, there are certainly other things that can be used as reinforcement:
Playtime! Playing tug, fetch, a short wrestling session, etc.
Praise and petting
Ear/Belly/Chest scratches (whatever your dog likes)
An important thing to note is that your SideKick always chooses the reinforcement. When I'm out for a walk with my SideKick, Ruby, she's almost never interested in food; her reward for keeping a loose leash or for practicing other behaviors is being released to go sniff and explore. If your dog doesn't like hot dogs, even the top-notch all-beef dogs won't be very rewarding.
More rewarding reinforcement = more motivation to participate in training
What kind of food reinforcement should be used?
Ok, so you've decided that you'd like to use food to motivate your dog, but...what do you give them? The good news is that you have many options! The bad news is that you have many options!
Dry or wet dog food
A wide variety of store-bought treats
"Human" food (cheese, hot dogs, boiled chicken, carrots, etc.)
Homemade treats (a wealth of recipes are available on the internet)