What is Positive Reinforcement: Meaning And Examples

There are several ways in which you can encourage good behavior and habits. Positive Reinforcement is one such powerful tool. This is because it helps in effective behavior modification. Positive reinforcement helps you to maintain and encourage prosocial behaviors like kindness, cooperation, etc. Further, you can also alter or reduce maladaptive behaviors with positive reinforcement.

In operant conditioning, the likelihood that behavior would occur in the future depends upon the outcome that follows such behavior. Accordingly, a positive outcome results in repeating behaviors. And a negative outcome leads to avoiding such behaviors in the future.

For instance, during toilet training, you praise, hug, or cheer your child up each time she uses the potty. Likewise, you appreciate your child each time she thinks before acting and speaking.

Advanced Psychology

Psychologists agree that the likelihood of a particular behavior depends upon four basic procedures. Two of them lead to the strengthening of behaviors. And the remaining two result in the weakening of behaviors. These are Reinforcements and Punishments.

In this article, we will only deal with what is Positive Reinforcement? Further, you will also learn how to use positive reinforcement to change behaviors.

Positive Reinforcement Meaning

Positive reinforcement means presenting positive outcomes that increase the likelihood that a preceding behavior will recur. In other words, positive reinforcement involves:

  • adding positive stimuli events, following the desired behavior, which
  • increase the likelihood of such behaviors occurring again in the future.

The easier way to remember what is positive reinforcement is to think of it as adding something to encourage a behavior. That is, you are reinforcing specific behavior by giving rewards or adding something positive. For instance, saying ‘Good Job!’ when your child does an act of kindness. Or giving a high-five when your 4-year-old behaves less impulsively.

Therefore, positive reinforcement is an effective way to:

  • maintain desired behaviors
  • alter or reduce undesired behaviors and
  • encourage skill acquisition.

B.F. Skinner Positive Reinforcement Theory

The American psychologist B.F. Skinner developed Skinner’s Theory of Reinforcement. According to Skinner, all human behavior was controlled by conditioning. That is, one could develop or reshape certain behaviors through reinforcement and/or punishment.

Reinforcement results in the strengthening of behaviors. While punishment leads to weakening the behaviors preceding them.  Skinner’s operant conditioning was based on Edward Lee Thorndike‘s Law of Effect. The Law states that behaviors followed by desired outcomes are more likely to be repeated in the future. However, behaviors that are followed by undesirable outcomes are less likely to be repeated in the future.

Accordingly, Skinner stated that the probability of occurrence of specific behaviors depends on four procedures.

  • Positive Reinforcement

    Positive Reinforcement involves adding positive or desirable outcomes that follow the desired behavior. The desirable outcomes further increase the probability of repeating such behavior in the future. Thus, the term ‘positive’ in positive reinforcement means adding positive stimulus events as a consequence of desired behaviors. And these positive outcomes result in repeating behaviors in the future. Accordingly, the positive outcomes are called positive reinforcers.

    Examples of positive reinforcers include rewards, a pat on the back, high five, appreciation, a favorite activity as a consequence of the desired behavior, etc

  • Negative Reinforcement

    Negative reinforcement involves negative reinforcers. That is consequences that enhance specific behaviors that allow an individual to escape from such consequences. In negative reinforcement, you strengthen desired behaviors by removing the negative stimulus events. That is, removing aversive consequences are reinforcing for individuals to perform desired behaviors. And such removal is contingent upon the display of desired response. That is, you remove negative consequences only when the individual displays desired behavior.

    For example, the removal of toys, etc if the child does not finish the food. Thus, the child eats food to avoid the removal of toys by the parent.

  • Positive Punishment

    Positive punishment involves certain actions leading to unpleasant outcomes. Thus, you do not undertake preceding actions to avoid these undesirable outcomes. Accordingly, aversive consequences follow unwanted behaviors. These aversive outcomes result in the weakening or reducing the undesired behaviors.

    For instance, the teacher scolding the child for not completing the homework. Thus, the child completes the homework for he knows that not doing so will result in punishment.

  • Negative Punishment

    The rate of behavior reduces or weakens under Negative Punishment. This is because there is a loss of a positive reinforcer that follows such a behavior.

    For instance, say your child fights with his sibling while playing with his favorite toy. Thus, you remove the toy for some time to help your child understand that he cannot fight with his sibling. Thus, your child avoids fighting with his sibling in the future.

Also Read: Edward Thorndike Contribution to Psychology

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement involves presenting favorable outcomes after the display of the desired behavior. These favorable outcomes then result in repeating behaviors preceding such outcomes. Accordingly, the term ‘positive’ in positive reinforcement refers to adding rewards or favorable outcomes to the situation. These outcomes further increase the probability of the occurrence of such behaviors in the future.

Thus, you use positive reinforcers to strengthen desired behaviors or encourage skill acquisition. For instance, you promising your child a bed-time story if he brushes his teeth. This will help in developing the habit of brushing teeth before hitting the bed at night. However, reading bed-time stories acts as a positive reinforcer only if reading is your child’s preferred activity. Thus, there are a number of behaviors that you want your child to repeat in the future. These include using kind words, practicing good manners, learning lessons, sharing things, etc. Likewise, you can also help your child learn skills  Likewise, you can use a number of outcomes that act as positive reinforcers each time your child displays a behavior

Whereas, negative reinforcement involves the removal of aversive consequences to strengthen desired behaviors. The word negative here refers to ‘removal of the aversive consequences’. Accordingly, the removal of negative consequences is reinforcing for the individual to perform desired behaviors.

consequences that lead to strengthening the behaviors preceding them.  However, such behaviors allow for avoiding or escaping from the consequences that follow them. Say you tell your child that he can play only if he finishes his work. Thus to avoid ‘No Play Time’, the child finishes the homework.

Positive Reinforcement and Positive Punishment

As mentioned earlier, positive reinforcement involves positive reinforcers. That is the desired behaviors that follow positive outcomes. These positive outcomes, in turn, increase the probability of the occurrence of such behaviors in the future. Thus, positive reinforcement results in the strengthening of desired behaviors.

Positive punishment, on the other hand, involves undesirable outcomes that follow specific actions. Thus, you do not undertake behaviors preceding such outcomes to avoid undesirable outcomes.

What Makes Positive Reinforcement More Effective?

The following four factors affect positive reinforcement and make it more effective.

  • Providing it Immediately

    Positive reinforcement is most effective if you serve it the moment you observe the desired behavior. Thus, the more immediate the reinforcement, the more effective it is.

  • Making it Personalized

    Events that act as positive reinforcers for one individual may not act so for others. This means reinforcers are not universal. Different outcomes act as reinforcers for different individuals. Therefore, you must look for outcomes that are meaningful for the person in question.

  • Providing it Frequently

    Providing positive reinforcement a few times won’t help much in encouraging skill acquisition or desired behavior. Therefore, reinforce multiple times to help develop the desired behavior or acquire the desired skill.

  • Creating Opportunities for Earning It

    Remember, people appreciate things that they earn. Therefore, make sure you create opportunities for people to earn positive reinforcement.

What are Positive Reinforcers?

The outcomes following desired behaviors that increase the future probability of such behaviors are called positive reinforcers. These reinforcers are either biologically preestablished such as water, food, etc. These are Primary Reinforcers. Or, there are certain events that acquire the properties of reinforcers when paired with these primary reinforcers. They are called Conditioned Reinforcers.
Positive reinforcers could be:

  • tangible items like stickers or tokens
  • social reinforcers like a hug, praise, cheering, etc, and
  • preferred activities like watching a favorite sport, reading out stories, extra playtime, etc.

Types of Positive Reinforcers

As mentioned earlier, there are various types of reinforcers that help in strengthening behaviors. But, the type of reinforcers you can use depends on the subject and the situation. For instance, providing extra time for video games may be reinforcing for certain subjects, but not for others.

Here are various types of positive reinforcers that you can use.

  • Natural Reinforcers

    As the name suggests, these reinforcers occur naturally or directly as an outcome of the desired behavior. For instance, your child studying hard for exams and scoring well.

  • Social Reinforcers

    These are reinforcers that involve others expressing their approval of a behavior. For instance, a teacher, parent, or an employer saying, ‘Well Done’ on successful completion of work.

  • Tangible Reinforcers

    These include tangible or physical rewards like toys, candies, clothes, etc

  • Token Reinforcers

    These reinforcers include tokens like stickers, points, beads, etc that can be exchanged later for something of value. For instance, parents devise a reward system in which they give a token each time their child showcases the desired behavior. Further, they exchange these tokens later for tangible rewards.

Premack Principle

As mentioned above, preferred activities can also serve as positive reinforcers. You can use these activities to reinforce behaviors or skill acquisition. This is Premack Principle.

You also call it Grandma’s Rule. As per this rule, low probability behavior is more likely to occur in the future if it is paired with high probability events.

It is typically put to use by parents, teachers, etc to reinforce or encourage less preferred activities.

For instance, you promise your child extra playtime (this is the preferred activity or high-probability behavior) if he finishes his homework.  Or your Grandma asking telling you that you can have your dessert (high-probability or preferred activity) once you finish your meal.

Remember, stimuli that serve as positive reinforcers at one time may not act as positive reinforcers at others. For instance, promising extra playtime might not serve as a positive reinforcer when your child is unwell.

Similarly, a stimulus that is reinforcing for one individual might not be one for others. For instance, not all children find reading a bedtime story as reinforcing.

Positive Reinforcement Examples

You can find numerous positive reinforcement examples in your routine life. Some of these are as follows:

  • The class teacher gave 4-year-old Maria a sticker on coming to school on time for the entire month of April.
  • The coach shouted “Well Done!” when Suzie played a nice shot in the game of hockey.
  • Samara promised her 8-year-old son Ronnie “extra video-game time” if he cleaned his room.
  • Sam was given an incentive by his boss on exceeding his month’s sales target.
  • The mother promised his son “his favorite breakfast food the next morning” if he read the bedtime story.
  • Clara appreciated her 5-year-old daughter sharing her food with her best friend.

Thus, in the above examples, positive reinforcers are as follows:

  • giving a sticker,
  • shouting “Well Done”,
  • giving extra video game time,
  • providing incentives,
  • promising favorite breakfast food and
  • appreciation

However, positive reinforcement must be used effectively to get the desired outcomes. If used otherwise, it can encourage undesired outcomes. Say a father buys his child a candy consistently each time the child whines when in a mall. Now, the probability that the child will exhibit such behavior each time he goes to the mall with his father in the future is high.

Using Positive Reinforcement to Change Behavior

Positive reinforcement over punishment is a powerful and effective tool to change behaviors. The aim of behavior modification is to alter behavioral patterns that impact one’s social life. Also, such behavior changes help in improving some parts of an individual’s life.

For instance, you use reinforcement and punishment to stop your child from misbehaving. For example, being impulsive, whining for not doing homework, being a choosy eater, etc. Also, you can use these behavior modification techniques to encourage good habits in your children. These could be being kind, maintaining hygiene, being patient, helping others, etc.

Thus, you can use positive and negative consequences to reinforce certain behaviors and prevent misbehaviors. Behavior is nothing but the things we say or do. And anything we choose to say or do has an outcome or a consequence. For example, if you exercise and eat healthily, you stay fit.

Similarly, when your child is kind, he makes friends easily. Or if he prepares his lesson well, he gets acknowledged for the same by his teacher. Likewise, if he is impulsive, he gets scolded.

Therefore, you need to teach your child how his good or bad actions can lead to positive or negative consequences. Some of the examples of positive and negative consequences are as follows:

Examples of Positive Consequences

The following are examples of positive consequences that you can use to reinforce certain behaviors in your children.

  • Rewards (Tangible or Intangible)

    Whenever you observe your child displaying good behavior, it is important to reward him immediately. Only then positive reinforcement would be effective. Further, these rewards could be both tangible and intangible. But, giving tangible rewards like buying games, toys, etc, could have adverse effects. It can be the case that your child shows good behavior only for the sake of getting a tangible reward. That is, he would not be naturally motivated to behave well. Thus, it is better to praise him for the good act that he has done. You can also use tokens like stickers or points to encourage certain behaviors. Much like teachers, who use behavior charts in the classroom to reward children for their good behavior. Likewise, you can also use activities that your child prefers as positive consequences. For example, giving more playtime, extended time for video games, reading bedtime stories, etc.

  • Praise (Social)

    Another way of reinforcing certain behaviors is to praise your child for the good work he has done. Say, your child does the chores properly or shares his toys with his siblings. Make sure you praise him for these good actions repeatedly if you want your child to learn these behaviors. Now, you need to careful while praising your child for his display of good behavior. For instance, praise him for doing his chores properly and not simply for finishing the task. Thus, praise should be genuine and realistic.

Examples of Negative Consequences

Negative consequences are the unpleasant outcomes that could follow an undesirable behavior that your child displays. Such outcomes would lead to your child preventing the behaviors that precede such outcomes.

Thus, you can use negative consequences to discourage your child from displaying undesirable behaviors. Now, negative consequences are case-specific. That is they vary from person to person. In other words, consequences that may be undesirable for one child might not be so undesirable for others. For example, if your child does not like reading books, cutting his reading time short won’t be a negative consequence.

Some of the negative consequences commonly used are as follows.

  • Not paying heed when your child throws tantrums to seek attention.
  • Taking away the privileges like extra playtime with friends, cutting down on watching favorite cartoons, etc.

Further, as said earlier, positive reinforcement works only if you provide the same repeatedly and immediately after you observe the good behavior. Thus, the time and frequency at which you provide positive reinforcement are of utmost importance.

Accordingly, there exist rules that decide what behaviors must be reinforced and when. These rules are called Schedules of Reinforcement. There are certain behaviors or actions that occur in natural learning environments. And when occurring in natural conditions, it is uncertain if such behaviors would be reinforced. However, in controlled environments like schools, labs, etc, you use these rules to reinforce or change specific behaviors.   Let’s have a look at these Schedules of Reinforcement.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Continuous Reinforcement Schedule

This is a Reinforcement Schedule where you provide reinforcement or a reward each time your child showcases a desirable behavior.  Such a Reinforcement Schedule helps in developing new behaviors.

For instance, if your child brushes his teeth at night before hitting the bed, you give him extra time to watch his favorite cartoon each night he does so.

Partial or Intermittent Reinforcement Schedule

Partial Reinforcements are more influential when it comes to maintaining specific behaviors. These include:

  • Fixed Interval Schedule

    In the fixed interval, you provide reinforcement depends upon the interval of time. That is, the amount of time elapsed. In other words, the first action or response occurs after a specific amount of time has passed which brings reward or reinforcement.

    When on such a schedule, you’ll see people depicting a pattern. As per this pattern, they act at lower rates immediately after the reinforcement occurs. But eventually, act more as the time for the next reward approaches near.

    For instance, your child hardly studies immediately after a big exam. However, the rate at which he will study increases once the time for the next exam approaches.

  • Variable Interval Schedule

    In a variable interval schedule, the time that must pass for behavior to repeat itself is not fixed.

    For instance, say you are a teacher who checks the homework of your students at irregular intervals. This will help your children perform consistently as their work can be checked anytime.

  • Fixed Ratio Schedule

    Under the Fixed Ratio Schedule, you provide reward or reinforcement only after a fixed number of responses. For instance, you reward a tailor for stitching suits only after he finishes stitching every single piece as mutually agreed.

  • Variable Ratio Schedule

    Under this schedule, you provide reinforcement after a variable number of responses are completed. Thus, those on this schedule do not know the number of responses after which reinforcement will occur. And that’s why you keep performing consistently for you do not know when the reinforcement may occur.

    For instance, you do not know the number of lottery tickets you must buy to finally win the lottery.  Thus, variable ratio schedules lead to behaviors that are highly resistant to extinction. That is to say, such behaviors occur even when the reinforcement is not available.

What is Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom?

Teachers carry the responsibility to impart education to the children. But, they also have the opportunity to teach and encourage students with socially acceptable behaviors.

Disruptive behaviors displayed by certain students make things difficult both for teachers and other fellow students. Teachers can’t teach and fellow students can’t learn.

One of the robust ways in which teachers can encourage children to repeat desired behaviors is rewarding consequences.  That is, rewarding children for displaying desired behaviors.

Positive Reinforcement in the classroom can go a long way in maintaining, changing, or shaping student behaviors. According to B.F. Skinner, Positive Reinforcement is a more effective tool than Punishment to change or establish behaviors.

Importance of Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom

Positive reinforcement is one of the important behavior modification techniques. Teachers use positive reinforcement to help students in changing, shaping, or maintaining behaviors. In other words, positive reinforcement motivates students to learn and display behaviors that are socially desirable.

Thus, teachers repeatedly apply positive and negative consequences in the classroom the moment students display specific behaviors. Positive consequences like rewards follow when students display desirable behaviors. This is done so that students repeat such behaviors in the future.

Thus, consistently reinforcing students for desired behaviors helps teachers in reducing unacceptable behaviors. These are the behaviors teachers do not want students to repeat in the future.

Let’s consider an example to understand why positive reinforcement in the classroom is so important.

Linda is 10 years old and is a grade 5 student. She is intelligent but is not motivated to do her home assignments. Her teacher Stacie knows that Lynda knows her concepts well but isn’t encouraged to complete her home assignments. Linda loves to get more points on her reinforcement chart. So, Stacie thinks of attaching Linda’s home assignments to getting more points on her reinforcement chart. That is if Linda does her home assignments properly, she would get more points on her reinforcement chart. These points are later exchanged for a trip to the museum with selected fifth graders.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom

Positive reinforcement in the classroom offers a number of benefits. These are as follows:

  • Learning Acceptable Behaviors From Teachers

    Teachers who use positive reinforcement in the classroom develop a good bond with their students. Students learn from teachers about acceptable behaviors. For example, when teachers reward a student for being punctual, other students learn too that coming to school on time is desirable behavior. Thus, students get to know that being punctual is a behavior that would be rewarded. And, thus, there is a higher likelihood that such behavior would be repeated in the future.

  • Less Absenteeism in the Classroom

    Positive reinforcement also helps in grabbing the interest of the students. Teachers who motivate students to contribute and learn in the classroom face reduced student absenteeism. Such teachers do not adopt the conventional method of teaching. Instead of speaking endlessly, they allow students to communicate with their fellow students. Such concrete and authentic discussion help in capturing student attention. Further, it intrinsically motivates the students to come to classes frequently.

  • Enjoy Learning and Feel Safe

    As stated earlier, students develop a genuine bond with teachers who use positive reinforcement. Further, students learn behaviors displayed by their teachers and other fellow students. Also, sharing a good bond with the teachers motivates students to give a valuable opinion to others who are listening. Thus, they enjoy learning, feel safe, and are motivated to come back.

  • Build Healthy Self-Esteem

    Positive reinforcement helps students in building healthy self-esteem. When teachers praise students for displaying acceptable behaviors, they feel good about themselves. Further, it boosts their confidence as they get a sense that they can make the right choices. Thus, they feel good about themselves and their decisions. They do not focus on thinking that they can never do the right things. Further, they also learn to feel good about their accomplishments.

Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom Ideas

There are so many ways in which you can use positive reinforcement in the classroom. However, make sure you provide positive reinforcement immediately and repeatedly. Not only this, the reinforcer that you use should be something that interests the students and achievable.

As stated earlier, there are various types of reinforcers that you can use. These include natural, social, token, tangible, and choice activities.

Examples of positive reinforcement in the classroom that fall into these above categories are as follows:

  • Choice Activities

    These are activities that students love taking up. These are the activities that students like or prefer. Accordingly, choice activities can act as a great positive outcome to reinforce desirable behaviors in students.  So, whenever they display desirable behavior, teachers can use such outcomes to help students repeat desirable behaviors in the future. These activities could be extra playtime, reading out their favorite book, making them watch their favorite movie, etc.

  • Tokens Rewards

    Tokens are items that themselves hold no worth but can be exchanged later for something meaningful. These typically include stickers, poker chips, points, tickets, etc. Teachers use tokens to encourage acceptable behaviors in students. Tokens are given immediately after students display desirable behaviors. The tokens so collected by students are later exchanged for some privilege. This includes a tangible reward like a prize, gifts, special opportunities, etc

  • Tangible Rewards

    These are physical rewards that you give to students immediately after they display acceptable behaviors. Tangible rewards could include the following.

    • edibles- like candies, juice, chips, etc
    • toys or other items of their choice like books, stickers, etc

    However, tangible rewards may result in behavior changes in the short-term. It can be the case that students are extrinsically motivated to display the desired behaviors. That is, they display desired behaviors only to receive tangible rewards that are promised to them. For example, if you promise students candy for being punctual to school, they may come on time only for the sake of candies. They will not be intrinsically or innately motivated to be on time. This is because students do not understand the value of being punctual. Or how such a discipline is going to be useful to them in life in general. Thus, giving tangible rewards holds the risk of students getting used to receiving such rewards, each time they display desired behaviors. That’s why teachers prefer intangible rewards like praise, giving a high five, etc.

  • Social Rewards

    These are rewards in the form of gestures that showcasing teachers warranting specific behaviors. For example, when a student completes his assignment properly, teachers praise him in front of the entire class. Social rewards are any day better than tangible rewards. This is because such rewards intrinsically motivate children to learn desired behaviors. That is they do not display acceptable behaviors just for the sake of rewards. Social rewards could include the following.

    • verbal praise like “I appreciate the way you showed patience” or “Great Job!” or ” I loved the way you worked on the project”.
    • written comments on some assignment or project. This could be “Excellent Work” or “Keep up the Good Work”.
    • other gestures like giving a high five, or a pat on the back.
  • Natural Rewards

    These are rewards that are an obvious result of a specific activity or behavior. That is, such rewards are not deliberately arranged by a teacher. For example, if a student is kind and friendly, other fellow students would automatically want to be friends with such a student.

The Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace

One of the biggest challenges organizations face relates to maximizing employee productivity and performance. The success of any organization rests on its employee productivity and overall performance.

However, organizations struggle when it comes to keeping employees engaged and motivated. And this impacts their job performance.

This is where positive reinforcement in the workplace becomes extremely important. By incentivizing or rewarding desired behaviors, you motivate your team members to repeat such behaviors in the future. For instance, say you reward your team members intrinsically by praising them each time they perform well. Or reward them extrinsically by giving days off, monetary incentives, etc.  Certainly, such a reinforcement motivates them to keep giving their best and boosts their morale.

Now, there a number of benefits of positive reinforcement in the workplace. Let’s have a look at each of them.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace

  • Boosts Employee Confidence and Self-Esteem

    Reinforcing the hard work and effort of your team members gives them an increased sense of self-worth. They feel that their efforts are being recognized and what they are contributing is adding value to your company. Further, they are keen and willing to work with the team members on further projects.

  • Increased Retention

    Employees or team members who are not engaged or motivated to work are more likely to leave your company. In fact, employee-turnover is one of the challenges that business entities are facing today. It carries a huge cost for the companies. But with positive reinforcement, companies can increase employee engagement and thus their retention. Employees who feel valued and are acknowledged for their work are loyal and have a higher probability of sticking around.

  • Reduced Absenteeism

    Low morale results in increased employee absenteeism. Employees may take off because they feel all used up. Or would want to avoid a meeting with the manager. Time offs or employee absenteeism costs you a lot as a business entity. But you can reduce time offs to a great extent by practicing positive reinforcement in the workplace. Recognizing their good work or providing facilities like flexible work-hours makes them feel that their needs are being met. As a result, they feel motivated and enthusiastic to come to work.

  • Increased Performance and Productivity

    When you reinforce certain behaviors, you clearly let your employees know the behaviors you want them to repeat. For instance, you acknowledge the employees for their creativity. Now, this will encourage and give confidence to your employees to consistently adopt the creative approach towards work. Recognizing employees for their efforts would certainly motivate them to perform better. Further, it will also improve their productivity and efficiency.

  • Increased Willingness to Learn

    Acknowledging employees for the effort they put in would incline them to always go for more. They will be keen on learning new concepts, skills, techniques, etc. Also, they would readily take up more work for they start enjoying the whole thing instead of taking it as a burden.

Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace Examples

Companies use a number of reinforcers to keep their employees engaged and motivated. These could be social, tangible, etc However, tangible rewards work the best. Some of the ways in which they provide positive reinforcement in the workplace are as follows.

Social Reinforcers

  • praising employees for hard work and effort
  • acknowledging their skills, initiative
  • encouraging them to present their views
  • giving them opportunities for personal growth and development

Tangible Reinforcers

  • flexible work hours
  • team lunches
  • gift cards
  • paid leaves
  • monetary incentives, bonus, etc
  • vacation
  • team get-togethers
  • paid meals
  • celebrations like birthdays, promotion, etc
  • paid recreational activities

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Positive reinforcement is one of the powerful tools to change your dog’s behavior. Dog training with positive reinforcement involves using rewards to modify your pet’s behavior. You encourage your dog to display desired behavior by giving her something pleasant immediately after she behaves the way you want her to.

This rewarding outcome increases the likelihood of your dog repeating such behavior in the future. Further, you must give such reinforcement immediately after your pet displays acceptable behavior.

For example, if you are training your dog to sit, make sure you praise your pet immediately after she sits. Dog training using positive reinforcement is effective only when it is given immediately and consistently. If you praise your dog after a while, it would not help you in training your dog for specific behavior.

Commonly Used Positive Reinforcers

The following can be used as pleasant outcomes for dog training using positive reinforcement.

  • petting
  • food treats that are preferred by your pet
  • praise
  • ear rub
  • toys like Kong classic bone chew, etc

Further, if you are using a food treat, a toy, or an activity as a reinforcer, make sure it is something that interests your pet.

But, rewarding your pet with praise, a toy, a food treat, or any preferred activity is not sufficient. You must know how to communicate with your pet to effectively reinforce her for the desired behavior.

How to Communicate with Your Dog?

You need to teach your pet certain words that help her understand behaviors that you liked and the ones that you did not. This you can do by speaking those words repeatedly in a specific tone of voice. Dogs quickly pick up your tone and facial expressions. For instance, if your dog sits when you want her to, you can say ‘Good Dog’ in an excited tone of voice. Make sure the words that you use are short and said in the desired tone of voice. Also, these words must be followed by a reward. This helps your pet to learn that ‘Good Dog’ said in an excited tone would result in a food treat, a toy, etc.

Similarly, when your pet barks on you, you need to tell her that this is a behavior that you do not like. You can use a short word in a low tone of voice to express your discontent. This helps your pet to understand that such activities do not result in any reward. Also, once you point out the undesirable behavior, make sure you ask your pet to do display a behavior she can easily undertake.

For example, you can ask her to shake hands. In this way, you reinforced your pet to display desired behavior and avoid the undesired behavior.

Positive Dog Training Techniques

Continuous Reinforcement

As said earlier, you must reward your dog immediately after she displays the desired behavior. Not only that, you need to reward your pet consistently. This means you need to continuously reward your pet if you want her to learn a new behavior or maintain existing behavior.

Accordingly, if your pet loves food treats, make sure you carry these along initially in your pocket.


This technique involves making your pet gradually move towards the desired behavior. In this, you reinforce your dog when she displays a behavior that is close to the desired behavior. Then, you keep increasing your demand from your pet till you finally give her the reward. Say you are teaching your dog to heel. Heeling involves teaching your dog to walk on your left side for obedience and rally competitions.

You can use the shaping technique to help your pet learn to walk by your side. Accordingly, initially, you will have to call your pet and point him to the side to which she must walk. (heeling traditionally requires your dog to walk on your left side.)

Now, you must praise your pet by saying ‘yes’ and give her a treat. Do this multiple times until she readily comes on your side. Next, reward your pet each time she readily takes the position by your side.

Intermittent Reinforcement

You can also use intermittent reinforcement once your dog has truly learned the new behavior.  You can use a variable schedule of reinforcement. This will help your pet learn that she needs to continuously display the newly learned behavior. And that if she does so, she will at one point certainly receive the reward.

The Positive Reinforcement Chart

Positive reinforcement charts are systematic methods to make children learn desired behaviors. These charts help children know that their teachers or parents feel delighted when children learn the desired behaviors.

Positive reinforcement charts work on the principle that children flourish when they get noticed and acknowledged by their parents or teachers.

These are great tools to reinforce your children toward desired behaviors. Further, these charts help parents and teachers to keep a record. That is how well the child is progressing towards learning behaviors they want him to learn. Also, positive reinforcement charts remind children of the behaviors that are expected out of them.

There are different types of positive reinforcement charts. These include sticker charts, color behavior charts, weekly points chart, chores chart, etc.

You can see these positive reinforcement charts to encourage desired behaviors in children both at home and in school.

What is Positive Reinforcement for Toddlers?

Positive reinforcement proves to be a powerful tool for disciplining toddlers and encourage them to learn socially acceptable behaviors. Much like children from other age groups, your toddlers also seek your attention and approval.

Thus, they are likely to repeat certain behaviors in the future if you reinforce such behaviors via rewards or positive outcomes.

Say, you want to teach your toddler good manners or the behavior of completing chores. You can positively reinforce such behaviors to make your toddler learn such behaviors. Make sure you provide positive reinforcement the moment you notice your toddler displaying such behaviors. Also, encourage your child consistently for putting his toys back in the basket after play. Or for displaying good manners.

Further, remember to reinforce your toddler not just for displaying the desired behavior. But also for the efforts, he/she makes to learn such behaviors. For instance, your toddler may get distracted while she’s on her way to put the toys back in the basket. She may not put the toys back or might do so with you prompting her multiple times. Still, praise her for the efforts she made to put her toys back in the basket.

Using Reinforcement Schedules

You can use various reinforcement schedules for helping your toddler learn new behaviors or maintain desired behaviors. For instance, you may initially reward your toddler each time she plays nicely with her friend or shares toys. The reward could be a kiss, a hug, praise, clapping, or cheering, or a tangible reward like a toy.

Remember, toddlers grasp your facial expression and tone of voice. So each time your praise your toddler for the desired behavior, keep a positive tone of voice and an expression of excitement on your face.

Then, once your child learns a specific behavior, you can gradually reinforce your child’s behavior intermittently. That is, reinforcement is given at changing time intervals. Such reinforcement schedules help in maintaining particular behaviors in toddlers. When they know that reinforcement can be given at any time, they will continue to display behaviors for seeking reinforcement.

Positive Reinforcement in Autism

As per the American Psychiatric Association, Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It involves:

  • impairment in communication and social interactions
  • repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, and
  • restricted interests

Reinforcement Learning is certainly a significant tool in providing much-needed care to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Early behavioral interventions aim at encouraging desired behaviors like maintaining eye contact. And reducing undesired behaviors like repeating phrases.

Accordingly, positive reinforcement is used to increase the following behaviors in children with ASD.

  • communication
  • imitation
  • naming objects
  • following instructions

Thus, these reinforcement techniques that are used to encourage behavior learning have been concentrated into a treatment system. This system is called the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

The ABA makes use of positive reinforcement techniques to encourage new behavior learning like social interaction communication.  Further, these are also used to reduce unwanted behaviors like biting or hitting, head-banging, body-rocking, etc.

However, you must remember that ASD is a spectrum disorder. That is, it has a varied range of symptoms in children with ASD. Some children may show mild symptoms. While others may showcase critical symptoms.

Therefore, whether your child responds to behavior and communication treatments as ABA depends on his personal requirements.

Applied Behavioral Analysis Techniques

There are various types of ABA techniques that are used to reinforce new behaviors. Or discourage negative behaviors in children with ASD. These are as follows:

  • Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)

    Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) involves breaking the skills to be taught are broken into steps or bites. Then, educators teach these bites to children with ASD. Further, a specific skill is repeated until it is properly learned by children. Each learning session is intensive and is marked by prompts by the teacher. Finally, children are encouraged to learn new skills by providing reinforcement at every step.

  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)

    Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is a technique that makes use of principles of ABA for behavior training in children with ASD. In this, teachers concentrate on ‘Pivot Areas’ of a child’s development. And by focusing on these pivotal areas, teachers attempt to bring about progress in other areas. These include behavior and learning, social skills, communication, etc.

    The pivotal areas on which educators focus are as follows.

    • motivation
    • self-management
    • response to multiple cues
    • the beginning of social interactions

    Further, the PRT approach makes use of motivation techniques. That is, children are motivated to alter behaviors. That is, instead of teachers deciding what activity to take up, it is the child who is asked to initiate the activity of his choice. For instance, he may start any game, or would decide what to talk or learn. In addition to this, teachers provide children with natural reinforcers. For instance, if the child asks for a specific food treat, he is given just that.

  • Verbal Behavior Intervention

    Verbal Behavioral Intervention also is a method that is based on the scientific principles of ABA. It helps in communication and language learning in children with ASD. This technique teaches them the purpose of using various words. Further, they get to know how these words will help them in communicating what they want. For example, children get to know that saying the word ‘toy’ would lead to a positive outcome. That is, by requesting a ‘toy’, they would get the toy in return.

Advanced Psychology