I do not consider a behavior reliable until it has been reinforced many times.  By many I mean hundreds of times. A correct response followed by reinforcement will cause the behavior to occur again, but some behaviors require a lot of reinforcement (such as coming when called off a squirrel) while some behaviors require very little reinforcement (such as finding a stick of butter on the counter). In other words, a dog that is very “foody” probably only needs to find one stick of butter on the counter for the behavior of counter surfing to occur because the butter was so reinforcing.

Once a behavior is learned and even reliable continued reinforcement will be necessary. This doesn’t mean that you need to carry around treats forever, although, for some behaviors such as a very strong recall in distracting environments I may try to reinforce with food whenever I can so that it remains strong.

  • Continued reinforcement – one way to keep a behavior reliable is to continue to reinforce it. If you reinforce a behavior during training and then decide to stop reinforcing the behavior the reliability of that behavior will deteriorate.
  • Real life rewards – things you are going to give to the dog anyway such as meals, treats, chewies, pets, belly rubs, ball tosses, a game of tug, ear rubs, the leash on for a walk, access to a place the dog wants to go and anything else that the dog desires. To keep behaviors strong and reliable use real life rewards to continue to reinforce them.

Categories: Training


Vicki Ronchette is the founder of Show Dog Prep School and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Vicki has been working with dogs professionally for over 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, groomer and veterinary assistant. She is the author of Positive Training for Show Dogs, From Shy to Showy and Ready? Set. SHOW! Vicki presents workshops and seminars all over the country on how training show dogs.