If you’ve been researching dog training classes lately, you’ve undoubtedly come across a number of very confusing terms used to describe different “dog schools” and training methods used. Positive reinforcement, correction, punishment, negative reinforcement, behavior modification, conditioned reinforcer, dominance theories…it’s a wonder our dogs are able to learn anything at all.
The good news is, the study of dog behavior is a constantly growing and changing field. We’re becoming more knowledgeable all the time regarding the ways that dogs learn. The down side is, the amount of information out there can be very difficult to weed through.
Which training method is the “right” one? There is not one right way to train all dogs. If there was, we’d all be walking around with Lassie on a leash (and what fun would that be?). There are, however, some things for you to consider when training your dog.
Training Through Positive Reinforcement
Programs based on positive training methods are very simple. It means that you reward your dog for doing what you want them to, and remove an anticipated reward when they do something you feel is inappropriate. The key is that you don’t physically punish your dog for misbehaving. The very latest studies show that dogs learn better when rewarded for doing something right rather than being punished, or corrected, for wrong choice.
Unfortunately, many of us tend to pay more attention to our dogs when they do something wrong, instead of when they do something right. For example, your dog is playing quietly on the floor and you think to yourself, “Whew, a break from the constant energy”, and you walk by, ignoring your dog. Five minutes later, your dog hops on the furniture and you yell at him and push/pull him off. What a fun game to your dog. The result? More couch jumping for the dog and more frustration for you. Had you given him a scratch behind the ear or tossed him a toy when he was playing quietly on the floor he may not have tried the couch game for attention. Just as with children, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
So, how does positive dog training work? As said before, it is the giving and taking away of the anticipated reward. Think about it. If you received a $10 bill every time you sat still for five minutes (but didn’t get the $10 if you moved during that time), do you think you would be inclined to sit still when someone asked you to?
Positive training is fun for you and your dog. You can teach your dog just about anything with positive training. When they obey your requests, they are give tasty treats, a toy, or attention from you. If they choose not to obey, they are told “wrong” and the food and attention are not given. You’d be amazed how quick dogs learn what behavior gets them treats and what doesn’t.
Of course, all dogs being different, you may need to “tweak” your methods here and there until they are suitable for you and your dog
Training With The Use of Punishment
A good example of “punishment-based training” is the long-standing, popular training technique using a “choke” chain or pinch collar. Dogs are given a leash correction when they make the wrong choice, and the result is an uncomfortable, often painful correction to the dog. Studies have shown that this type of correction can lead to soft tissue damage around the neck and possible damage to the trachea.
While it is true that some dogs react appropriately to the use of such aversive devices, the question becomes, are they learning? And…what are they learning? Some studies indicate that dogs trained with positive methods instead of aversive actually discover how to think through situation rather than being physically manipulated, thus they retain the information for a longer period of time.
Consider training your dog or puppy using positive training. A good start would be toattend the Michigan Humane Society’s “Positively Puppies” or “Manners for Life” class. It will not only put you on the road to having a well-behaved pet, but it will also help to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
Information provided by Michigan Humane Society Rochester Hills, Michigan
Behavior Help Line (248)650-0127