The Power Of Positive Reinforcement

Not too long ago, I had a customer bring his gundog to me to evaluate the dog’s level of desire. This guy wanted to know if I thought his dog had what it took to be a quality hunter. He described some traits about his 5-year-old dog and felt that he may need a new pup. After asking a number of questions about their hunting experiences and time together in the off season, we went outside to see exactly what his dog did for him.

The first thing I wanted to see was the dog’s retrieving desire. As he threw the bumper for his dog, I heard the owner scream, “Fetch it up!” Off goes his dog in a slow trot to carefully investigate the thrown object. Again the guy yells, “Fetch it up!” After a lengthy decision process by the dog, he finally decides to pick it up and carefully bring it back to his owner. The only thing I heard from the gentleman at this point was, “Drop it,” said in a stern voice.

Throwing it a couple more times, the dog’s attitude gradually “went south,” and it was apparent to both of us that the dog did not have much lust for retrieving. The fourth retrieve consisted of the dog running by the dummy to find a spot to relieve himself. Noticing this guy’s disappointment, I nicely asked him if this was how things normally went when he throws dummies for his dog. He then reiterated what he told me in my office, “I don’t have much time to do this with him due to my busy schedule.”

Make sure to give your dog enough praise while retrieving. Each dog needs this positive reinforcement!

Dogs Need Praise
That is when I had to bite my tongue. I thought to myself that if I were the dog, I would probably react the same way if all I heard was orders being barked out during something that is supposed to be fun. Not only that, but the lack of repetition would also play a huge role in my attitude as well. Dogs need consistency with these activities and more importantly need praise while doing them!

Positive reinforcement is a must every time you go out and work your dog. This element was overlooked by this gentleman and is something that in my mind was the reason for the lack of desire in his dog. Praise will not only get you better results in any dog, it will help get your dog to want to work harder for you to earn your praise.

Each and every dog handler or trainer has different opinions about positive reinforcement. Some people use treats, or something else the dog may eat, while other will simply say, “Good Dog.” Whatever your method, it should be used during every training session or fun time.

Just like we can fine-tune negative reinforcement, whether a snap with a choke chain and leash, or turning up and down the electrical stimulus on a remote collar, so can positive reinforcement be adjusted. While some dogs simply need a small kibble of dog food, others may prefer a soft tasty dog treat. This also holds true with praise, some dogs may only require a small amount positive reinforcement while others may need you to go bananas over them when they do something correct.

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Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels ( In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. For more information on training your dog with Cannon River Kennels, call 507-663-6143 or visit ( He provides dog training tips twice a month.

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