Effective ReInforcement

There are a variety of ways to reinforce your pup: verbal praise, physical touch such as petting, and food reinforcement. Our training philosophy and policy heavily relies on positive training with a high rate of reinforcement. Good behavior needs to be rewarded frequently throughout the puppy’s training with you so they understand how they should behave in the home and in public.


Consistency of feedback and reinforcement timing are key.

  • Set your pup up for success - Create an environment that prevents temptation and reduces challenge for our youngest puppies.
  • As pup's mature AND demonstrate an understanding of a desired behavior, level or distraction or challenge in the environment may steadily increase.
  • Always be prepared to redirect undesirable behaviors and provide appropriate options for the pup to be successful.
    • Example: If the pup is mouthing an inappropriate item, redirect with your voice and then provide an appropriate chew toy and praise as they choose to chew that instead.
    • Example: A dog is fidgeting and vocalizing as another dog approaches on an outing. You create distance from the distraction by moving further away in the opposite direction and begin to reinforce as the dog calms and re-engages with you.

  • Do not repeat verbal cues if your puppy did not respond to the cue.
    • When a puppy hears a cue, responds, and receives reinforcement, we strengthen and maintain value in the cue.
    • Repeating verbal cues without the pup responding leads to a loss of value and responsiveness to the cue overall.
    • Do not repeat verbal cues if you think your puppy did not hear you the first time.
    • Do not continue to raise the volume of your voice.
  • If the pup is not already engaged with you, use a positive tone to gain their eye contact before giving the cue.
    • If the pup still is not responding to the cue, additional management is needed. This may include creating distance from possible distractions, using a more positive tone of voice, or ultimately building more reliable reinforcement history behind the cue by returning to practice at home where the pup is likely to be more successful.

Praise and Reinforcement

Praise and reinforcement need to motivate your puppy, so they continue to repeat their good behavior. Guide dogs have to work for a variety of rewards and be motivated by their partner. Food reinforcement, petting, interactive play, and verbal praise can all be highly motivating and rewarding to your puppy.

  • A happy, well-balanced puppy will make a happy, well-balanced guide dog.
  • Your puppy will be confident and motivated, if reinforcement is frequent.
  • Early on, praise your puppy every time they do something right or carry out an appropriate behavior on their own (such as walking through the house calmly, lying down next to you, or sitting before mealtime) to establish positive associations with desirable skills and behaviors.
  • Praise the pup in the appropriate tone of voice. Pups will give what they get! 
    • Muttering or using a dull tone of voice will not motivate your puppy..
    • Use a combination of excited and loving tones. For example, if your puppy just sat when you told them to do so in a high-distraction environment say, “GOOD DOG!” Or, if you’re in a quieter environment such as a restaurant and your pup ignored food on the floor say in a more soothing tone, “Goooood dooooggg” to keep them motivated but calm.
    • Praise does not need to be loud or shouted. Changing the tone and inflection is what’s important. Loud praise, for example, can overstimulate young or excitable puppies.
  • Use praise to reinforce any attempts at the correct behavior when the pup is young. If your praise is timed correctly and motivating, your pup will keep making progress toward your behavior goal.

Increasing Expectations

  • After the puppy demonstrates consistent understanding of a desired behavior, increase your criteria and expectations slowly. For example, when teaching Sit, you’ll reward any attempt whether the pup is in front of you, beside you, or wiggling a little bit. As your puppy gets older you can start refining the verbal cue by only praising the correct behavior of your puppy on your left side with their attention focused on you.
  • Always be mindful of the pup's body language and ensure that expectations grow at a slow pace. This allows the pup to remain successful, as to not cause frustration or lack of confidence in the skill they're practicing.
  • Time your reinforcement to occur either during or immediately after the behavior you are teaching. Puppies can have short attention spans and need to be rewarded as soon as possible, so they build a positive association alongside desirable behaviors and, as a result, repeat them!