Using positive reinforcement to train dogs has long been acknowledged as a highly effective training method. It also provides the dog with a positive experience. Nearly all dogs and even other animals respond well to positive reinforcement training or reward training. In fact, it is the only method used to handle wild circus and showbiz animals such as lions and tigers.
Positive reinforcement training makes use of rewards to tell a dog what is expected of him, which is why it is so effective. When the dog performs the correct action, he is given a reward, usually a treat. It can also be a rub under the chin, a pat on the head, or a scratch behind the ears. What matters is that the animal is rewarded every time he does the right thing.
It is highly likely that humans have been using positive reinforcement to train dogs for hundreds or even thousands of years. The dog-human relationship probably began when wolf puppies were tamed and trained by humans to fend off predators and guard and herd livestock.
Wolves and dogs hunt in packs which run on a strict hierarchy. Every member of the pack knows his place, and the hierarchy rarely changes once it is established, except in the event of an injury or death. It is innate in every dog to look to the pack leader for guidance; thus, you as trainer must assert yourself as the pack leader. Once the dog sees you as the leader, he will respect your authority and training will become easier.
Some dogs are more dominant while others are more submissive. In general, a dog with a relatively submissive personality will be easier to train using positive reinforcement, as he will not be interested in challenging your leadership. Even dominant dogs respond well to reward training, though; there are very few dogs that don’t.
In addition, using positive reinforcement is the best way to retrain a dog with behavior issues, particularly if he has been abused in the past. Earning the trust and respect of an abused dog can be very hard, and reward training is the best means to do so.
Because reward training is based on trust and respect instead of fear and intimidation, it is the most effective way to get a dog to cooperate. Every dog, big or small, can more than likely be trained with positive reinforcement.