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The Carrot Or The Stick in Dog Training? Choose Wisely

Training Using Positive Reinforcement
Training Using Positive Reinforcement
Mary Jean Alsina

Many dog owners, unknowingly, create fear and aggression in their dogs right from the beginning when they come under the spell of the outdated and dominant methods used by forceful or “balanced” trainers. “Show him who’s boss!” “You must be alpha” “You must be in charge”. Unfortunately, the media does a wonderful job of propagating this type of training and idealizing it to the point where people think it is the only way that works and that they must hurt their dog to get them to behave.

For years, this is the way dogs were trained. The “yank and crank” trainers did just that. Jerking the leash, hitting the dog, shocking the dog, and yelling at the dog are some examples. These methods can make the dog so incredibly fearful that he winds up submitting to the owner just to make the pain/yelling/etc.. cease. What winds up happening, in the interim, is the dog learns to never trust the owner, form no bond with the owner, and can then have aggressions branch out into other areas aggression to other people, dogs, etc..)

A recent study done by The Journal of Veterinary Behavior involved two training schools, one that used the old school type of forceful training, while one used a force-free method of training. The study showed that “it found that pets who are trained using such, “aversive” techniques were 15 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of stress than those trained using more “positive” techniques, such as the use of treats for rewards and softer voices. Dogs taught using the latter methods were also found to display greater contentment and enjoy a better relationship with their owners.”

It’s simple science. Dogs learn best when they are trained in a way that makes them WANT to do what the owner is asking and it’s very easy to accomplish this without forcing. Once an owner shows a dog clearly and consistently that everything the dog wants (food, attention, toys, play, etc..) is contingent upon the dog earning it, the dog will start doing whatever it takes to get what is desired. For example, how does one get a dog to learn to stop jumping at them when they are about to feed the dog? This behavior would be looked upon as dominant in some trainers’ eyes. If the owner simply does not feed the dog until the dog sits and is calm, the dog will quickly learn that sitting means getting fed. Once the dog learns this, does that mean the dog suddenly isn’t dominant anymore? Absolutely not. The dog was never trying to dominate the owner, but the owner, through their actions, taught the dog that jumping will lead to being fed quicker. Dogs do what works to get what they want. It is the job of the owner to show the dog exactly what it will take to get what is desired.

In order to keep trust and a bond with their dogs, owners need to make training fun and worthwhile for their dog. Dogs adore working for their food. They live for it. Make them do a sit/stay before you will play with them. Require a leave it when putting the food bowl down on the floor. Find parts of every day to use as training moments with your dog as they receive what they want as the reward. Your dog will quickly lose his “dominance” as some call it and start doing what you want. Again, it’s all about teaching the dog to earn what they want.

Does this mean you can’t spoil your dog? NO WAY! Spoil away. Talk to them like a baby, give them yummy food, let them lay on the couch. As long as they jump off the couch when you ask and sit for the food if you want them to, spoil, spoil, spoil. This is why we have dogs- to spoil them as much as they spoil us. It’s the least we can do for them as they make our lives a much happier place. We owe it to dogs to teach them clear and consistent ways of behaving in a stress-free, force-free manner. Once they get the rules of the game, they won’t want to stop playing. Neither will you. ☺