Rewards and Discipline: Location Specific Reinforcement

Key Points

  • Location-specific reinforcement teaches your dog how to behave in new or stressful environments.

  • Positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your dog new behaviors.

  • Distance, duration, and distractions are all methods to measure the effectiveness of your dog's location-specific reinforcement training.

When you take your dog to new environments, don't be surprised if they stop following your commands. Your dog's behaviors and learning abilities may require location-specific reinforcement to become solidified in a standard behavior.

If your dog is having trouble following your commands, don't stress. As long as you're willing to try to teach them location-specific reinforcement, there's still hope!

What is Location-Specific Reinforcement?

Depending on the environment, location-specific reinforcement refers to finding a unique way to train your dog. You know just how easy it is for your dog to scrap all their excellent behavior when seeing another dog on a walk. If you take them to run errands, you also know their overzealous personality comes out, which may be off-putting to strangers.

What can you do?

Continue to expose them to environments where their training lacks foundation. Start with commands that generally work at home or in a familiar place. However, it's time to find new reinforcement methods when your old commands fail.

Rewarding dog with a treat

For example, finding a new reinforcement method is essential if your dog usually sits on command but has trouble accomplishing the task when you're at the dog park. Location-specific reinforcement tests methods your dog responds to in different locations and using them specifically to solidify their training. Each method will be effective in some locations and ineffective in others.

Dogs have trouble maintaining learned behaviors in new environments because their instincts are the opposite of the behaviors you teach them. Please have patience while training your dog, and try to work through these challenges in new environments as they become apparent.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning refers to the process of rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. This teaches your pup which behaviors receive rewards to make them more likely to occur in the future. Hopefully, this also teaches your dog that certain behaviors are unfavorable, preventing them in the future. This is the basis of dog training. It's essential to properly incorporate rewards and appropriate discipline to mold your dog's behavior.

Positive Reinforcement for Training Your Pup

Positive reinforcement, or R+ training, is part of operant conditioning, where a desired behavior is performed and rewarded, strengthening the probability of it happening again.

Your dog needs positive reinforcement for many reasons. Why would they stop jumping on the couch, learn to sit, or go to the bathroom outside without getting a little something in return? If only pets were that simple. Luckily, dogs respond very well to positive reinforcement.


Food is one of the best positive reinforcement methods for your dog. Dogs are food-motivated creatures willing to learn with the promise of a treat or kibble as a reward. Show your dog the treat or kibble, let them smell it, and use it as leverage before teaching or reinforcing a command.

Usually, dogs quickly adjust their behavior when food is present but may still have trouble concentrating in busy environments. Food may not be the best option if you're trying to reinforce training in a busy or stressful location.

Training dog on leash

Verbal Reinforcement

Dogs recognize certain words and tones of voice with frequent exposure. You've likely noticed your dog's ears perk up or their head tilt to the side whenever you mention going for a walk or their favorite treat. Determine which words and tones your dog understands and use them in your training regimen.

Using a familiar tone and words doesn't always work in new locations. Test out changing your tone if your pup stops listening, as this may get their attention.

Physical Affection

Does your dog turn into a puddle with belly scratches belly or pets behind the ears? Use this to your advantage and pet your dog anytime they perform a desired behavior. This is useful in public if you ever find yourself without any treats or can't use pet-friendly tones.

Start rewarding your dog with physical affection anytime they sit or shake, as this teaches them quickly that the affection means they are being "good."

Disciplining Unwanted Behavior

You want to find a beneficial way to let your dog know when they aren't behaving properly. These methods shouldn't cause physical harm, pain, or stress for your pet; those methods just teach your dog to be afraid of you.

Instead, practice changing your tone of voice. When your dog does something wrong, use a lower, louder tone. This teaches them to identify your angry voice.

Another method is to put your dog in time-out. Time-out teaches your dog that they lose a sense of freedom with bad behavior. Using their kennel or restricting their movement using a doggy gate are both effective time-out strategies.

Refrain from giving them their food or treat if they're acting out. For example, hold the food dish out of reach if they aren't sitting or behaving before a meal. Then, once they're calm and still, give them their dish. This teaches your dog that they must control their instincts when food is around in order to eat.

The Three Ds of Dog Training

Three Ds in dog training teach you how to measure the effectiveness of your dog's training: duration, distance, and distraction. Enhance your dog's training and learning capabilities by following these three standards.


How much time do you spend teaching your dog a specific behavior?

Training with dog

You solidify your dog's behavior by upping the time you spend training them and the time you expect them to perform the behavior. For example, try teaching your dog to sit for 30 seconds before using positive reinforcement. Giving in to their puppy eyes as soon as they sit is easy, but this doesn't teach them discipline. You strengthen their training and the likelihood of them remaining obedient in new surroundings by lengthening the behavior duration.


The distance between you and your pet affects their ability to perform certain behaviors. Try extending the distance between the two of you once they've learned the command. Start slow, and don't add too much length at once.

Take your time with this, and add to each behavior's duration each time you add distance. Your dog's listening ability weakens as you add distance, so offer positive verbal reinforcement. After a while, your dog's behavior will remain consistent even when they're far away or out of sight.


Distraction training is key in location-specific reinforcement. Often, your dog struggles to stay consistent in specific locations due to new distractions. Exposing your dog to these distractions encourages them to overcome the external stimuli and learn how to control their actions in new environments.

Start training your dog in public more frequently and get them used to these distractions. Other ways to expose your dog to distractions include being around other dogs and children or walking in new neighborhoods. The distractions should be specific to what struggles your dog currently faces.

The Five Golden Rules of Dog Training

There a five golden rules in dog training that teach you how to become the best dog trainer you can be. These rules are also essential to maintain control over your dog's training and treat them fairly.

Dog sitting with human

Stay Consistent

Your dog's training loses all effectiveness without consistency. Just because your dog sits or rolls over once does not mean they've genuinely learned the new behavior. Training takes time, commitment, and repetition to form new patterns. Set up a routine to train your dog and stick to it. Over time, your dog learns these associations and implements the behaviors more efficiently, better supporting that behavior in new locations.

Use the Right Reward

Don't be afraid to over-reward your dog. The truth is, you can't reward your dog too much to learn obedience. Once the behavior sticks, it's usually there to stay. Learn what makes your pet tick. Not motivated by food? No problem. Use toys, physical affection, or verbal affirmations. Get creative in your reward system and ensure you adequately reward your dog every time they follow your commands.

Finding the right reward system takes time. For most dogs, multiple methods might work well. If you're struggling, try using two methods simultaneously: Offer a treat and physical affection together, and see if that works.

Don't Overdo It With Training

Please don't push your pup past their limits. Just because they can't tell you they are upset doesn't mean they aren't. Pay attention to their behavior and focus; if it changes, ease up and try again later. Training for too long creates stress and anxiety, negatively impacting your canine's ability to perform.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Creating a comfortable environment for your dog's training isn't always possible, especially when training for location-specific reinforcement. Create a stress-free environment in the beginning stages of their training to increase their focus and allow them to feel safe enough to listen and learn. Your behavior and demeanor are also crucial in teaching your dog. Try not to get overly stressed or lash out if they aren't listening as this only creates challenges.

Avoid Punishing Your Pup

There's a blurry line regarding disciplining dogs and its effectiveness for dog training. Positive reinforcement is preferred, but what should you do when your dog doesn't listen?

Using clicker to train dog

Your dog often learns to listen once they realize the behavior needs positive reinforcement. Punishing your dog every time they don't listen to a command or step out of their training regimen creates unnecessary stress and disobedience. Positive reinforcement is usually all you need to show your dog how you want them to act. Eventually, they'll care much more about receiving a treat or affection than disobeying you.

Creating a stronger bond is the whole point of training your dog. Constantly disciplining or punishing them diminishes your connection and creates a dynamic based on fear and stress rather than loyalty.

Even police dogs receive positive reinforcement. These dogs are some of the best-behaved pups you'll ever meet and are a perfect example of the benefits of positive reinforcement.

Dog Training Difficulties

There are challenges in dog training that take more than a standard approach to overcome. Reflect on your dog's successes and failures and use them to create a new game plan for future training. Difficult dogs often haven't had the proper training specific to their needs. Every dog's personality and background determine how they respond to training.

You may not be investing enough time in your pup's training if you don't notice results after an extended period. Some dogs take longer to learn, and yours may be one of them. Start at square one and see how well your dog understands basic training. Don't be afraid to start over. Chances are, your dog has retained some of the training, and a refresher won't take as long.

If you've exhausted all your time, effort, and resources, consider contacting a local dog trainer for assistance. With a few in-person tips and guidelines, your training efforts will be more effective in the long haul.

Try Location Specific Reinforcement Today

Take your dog out into the locations where they struggle to remain consistent in their training. If it's the dog park, go at a time when there aren't many other dogs to create too much of a distraction for them to focus. You don't even need to leave the house to train. Invite a few friends over to provide distractions. Your dog doesn't understand how they should act in specific environments without proper training and will never learn these behaviors if you give up on training.

Training may be more accessible if your dog has a powerful bond with one person, so consistency is key at the start. Once the behavior sticks, it's easier for them to behave regardless of who's training them or who's providing them with the tasty reward.

Clicker and treats for dog training

Take your time and utilize all of the methods and rules provided here. Remember, you don't have to punish your dog for training them. Simply rewarding them for excellent behavior is enough for them to recognize how to act. Soon enough, with repetition and practice, your dog will be on their best behavior regardless of location.

You can do this; stay consistent, determined, and compassionate. For more helpful dog training content, subscribe to Barkspot today!

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