Bribery vs Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training

When it comes to training your beloved canine companion, it’s essential to understand the most effective methods and techniques to ensure a well-behaved, happy, and obedient dog – and scientifically that is positive reinforcement.

However, one of the biggest criticisms from other sectors of the training industry (particularly sectors that promote shock collars), is that Positive reinforcement is basically bribery. And they are distinctly different, so I really want to clear that up.

While they might seem similar at first glance, crucial differences between them can significantly impact your dog’s learning process and your relationship with your furry friend. In this post, we’ll delve into the world of dog training and explore the key differences between bribery and positive reinforcement. By understanding these distinctions, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right training approach for your dog, resulting in a stronger bond and a more rewarding experience for both you and your pet.

So, let’s dive in and discover the secrets behind effective dog training!

These are the
This is a really easy way of visualising operant conditioning. It can feel really confusing at times, but it’s pretty simple.

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement in dog training is a method that rewards desirable behaviors, encouraging dogs to repeat those behaviors in the future. It is based on the principle that dogs will naturally seek out actions that lead to rewards, and by reinforcing these actions, you can effectively teach your dog new behaviors. This is something that was defined in operant conditioning founded by BF Skinner.

Examples of positive reinforcement in dog training include:

  1. Praising your dog verbally when they sit on cue.
  2. Giving your dog a treat when they successfully come they lay down on cue.
  3. Offering a favorite toy or playing a game of fetch as a reward for coming when called
positive reinforcement vs bribery 3
toys and play can be an awesome choice for rewarding your pup!

Benefits of positive reinforcement dog training include:

  1. Improved communication: Positive reinforcement helps establish clear communication between you and your dog, making it easier for them to understand what you expect.
  2. Stronger bond: Using rewards to reinforce good behavior strengthens the bond between you and your dog, as it fosters trust and cooperation.
  3. Better behavior: Dogs trained with positive reinforcement methods are more likely to exhibit good behavior, as they understand the benefits of doing so.
  4. Increased confidence: Positive reinforcement can help build a dog’s confidence, as they learn that their actions can have positive outcomes an fosters optimism in your dog.
  5. Reduced stress: Training with positive reinforcement is less stressful for both the dog and the owner, as it focuses on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing undesirable actions.

The use of rewards in training sessions is a part of the process – yes – however just because we use food rewards doesn’t mean we’re bribing dogs!

What Is Bribery?

Bribery in dog training refers to the practice of offering treats or other rewards to get a desired behavior from the dog, as opposed to rewarding good behavior that has already occurred.

In bribery, the reward is shown before the desired behavior, which can lead to the dog performing the behavior only when they see the reward. This approach can create a dependency on the reward and may not foster genuine understanding or willingness to perform the desired behavior without the presence of a treat.

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Rewarding your dog should always come after your praise, click or marker word

So What’s The Difference Between Bribery & Positive Reinforcement?

The key differences between bribery and positive reinforcement in dog training can be summarized as follows:

  1. Timing and purpose of the reward: In positive reinforcement, the reward is given after the desired behavior has occurred, reinforcing the behavior and increasing the likelihood of its repetition. Bribery, on the other hand, involves showing the reward before the behavior, which may lead to the dog performing the behavior only when they see the reward.
  2. Effect on the dog’s behavior and learning: Positive reinforcement promotes learning and understanding of the desired behavior, as the dog associates the behavior with a positive outcome. Bribery can create a dependency on the reward and may not foster genuine understanding or willingness to perform the desired behavior without the presence of a treat.
  3. Impact on the relationship between the owner and the dog: Positive reinforcement fosters trust and cooperation between the owner and the dog, as it focuses on rewarding good behavior. Bribery can damage the trust and relationship between the owner and the dog, as the dog may learn to perform the behavior only when a reward is visible.

The other thing that really seem like bribery is when we lure or shape a new behavior. Again, it could be perceived as bribery, but we have to shape a new behavior… it’s just part of a training process and one that should be phased out slowly! Modern dog training done correctly is definitely distinct from bribery.

If you want to learn a little more about the theory this is based on, it’s part of operant conditioning!

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How Can You Ensure You’re Using Positive Reinforcement Instead Of Bribery?

To ensure you’re using positive reinforcement instead of bribery in dog training, consider the following points:

  1. Reward after the behavior: In positive reinforcement, the reward is given after the desired behavior has occurred. Ensure that you’re providing the treat or praise only when your dog has successfully completed the desired action.
    The pattern should always be Cue > Act > Praise > Reward – and that marker (the praise) is really important in helping your dog to understand what it is that you want to see. and not … Show reward > Cue > Act > Reward > Praise. This format would be bribery!
  2. Don’t show the reward beforehand: Avoid displaying the reward before your dog performs the desired behavior, as this can lead to bribery. Your dog should perform the behavior without knowing that a reward is coming.
  3. Be consistent and timely: Consistently and promptly reward your dog for good behavior. This helps strengthen the association between the behavior and the reward, making it more likely that your dog will repeat the behavior in the future.
  4. Gradually fade the rewards: Once your dog has learned the desired behavior, start gradually reducing the frequency of rewards. This will help your dog maintain the behavior without becoming dependent on the reward.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you’re using positive reinforcement effectively and avoiding bribery in your dog training.

Can Clicker Training Help?

It can! It gives good things so far as guiding you how to mark (use verbal praise) properly, and how to reward! But it’s a good to note that there is no difference between clicker training and proper use of praise/marker words when it comes to reward-based training.

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one of my favourite things is the expectant look on a dogs face when they get it right!

But My Dog Isn’t Treat Motivated?

Luckily, it doesn’t matter. If your dog isn’t into dog treats, a great way to get the behavior you want is a toy, especially a tuggy or a tennis ball, but you can also experiment with the tasty treat you want to use, as you have to make sure it’s the best reward for your dog, and like, people, different things will work better for different dogs and be better at getting your dog’s attention or worse!

The other thing, is that if your dog is ignoring all treats, is that you have a dog that’s “Over threshold” (this particularly applies to a fearful dog or aggressive dogs), which means that they’re no longer in a learning zone because something else is stressing them out and pulling all their focus. Emotional states like this will mean that your dog will potentially struggle with rewards-based training in that moment. You can manage the 3D‘s, to allow rewards to become more powerful again, and make sure to address the underlying cause. Because whilst rewards are a great thing and a super effective tool in promoting positive behavior – if they’re too stressed out already, it’s very likely that they’ll ignore the reward.

It can be tempting in these moments to resort to positive punishment instead, or go with a traditional training, and invest in a choke chain or prong collars — but it’s just not needed! We don’t need punishment to get rid of unwanted behaviors — instead check out more info about reactivity as it might just help you!

If You’re Stuck For Treat Ideas

It can be tough, but here’s some good ideas of some high value treats to put in your treat pouch!

  • Hot dogs
  • Peanut butter
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Liver
  • Baby food pouches

Remember, another way you can make your high-value reward even better, you can shake up what’s in there and have a few different things to add a little variety for your furry friend!

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rewarding has a sequence, it’s pretty simple, but getting it wrong changes the whole vibe

Timing Is Important!

In conclusion, understanding the differences between bribery and positive reinforcement in dog training is essential for effective and successful training. Positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding desired behaviors after they occur, promoting learning and a strong bond between the owner and the dog. On the other hand, bribery involves showing the reward before the desired behavior, which can lead to dependency on the reward and a lack of genuine understanding of the behavior.

By focusing on proper timing, consistency, and gradually fading rewards, dog owners can ensure they are using positive reinforcement techniques to create a well-trained and happy canine companion.

If you’re looking for affordable guidance on acing your dog training? Why not check out my etsy store which is full of guides on training!

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.

Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!

Thanks to for the images!


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