"Positive" Dog Training
Training through Positive Reinforcement

What is "Positive" Dog Training?

If you have been researching dog training classes lately, you have undoubtedly come across a number of very confusing terms used to describe different "dog schools" and the types of training methods used. Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, correction, punishment, behavior modification, conditioned reinforcer, dominance theories, etc. It's a wonder our dogs are able to learn anything at all.

The good news is that the study of dog behavior is a constantly growing and changing field. We are becoming more knowledgeable all the time regarding the ways that dogs learn. The down side is that 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 it comes to training your dog.

Training through Positive Reinforcement

The programs at the Michigan Humane Society Pet Education Center (PEC) are based on utilizing only positive dog training methods. Very simply, that means we reward our dogs for doing what we want them to, and remove an anticipated reward when they do something we feel is inappropriate. The key is that we don't physically punish our dogs when they misbehave. The latest studies in dog behavior indicate that dogs learn better when they are rewarded for doing the right things rather than being punished for making wrong choices.

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 the dog. Five minutes later, your dog hops on the furniture and you yell at him and push/pull him off. What a fun game for 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 a toy for him when he was playing quietly on the floor, he may not have tried the couch-game to get your attention. Just as with children, sometimes negative attention is better than no attention at all.

How Does Positive Dog Training Work?

Very simply, dogs are rewarded when they do the right thing, and the anticipated reward is removed when they make the wrong choice. Think about it. IF you received a $10 bill every time you sat still for five minutes, but did not get the anticipated $10 if you moved during that five minutes, do you think you'd be inclined to sit still when someone asked you to?

Positive training methods are fun for both you and your dog, and you can teach your dog just about anything by using positive training. When your dog obeys your request, simply toss her a tasty food treat, a toy or give her some extra attention. If your dog chooses not to obey, tell her "wrong" and turn away - the attention or food treat is not given. You'll be amazed at how quickly your dog figures out what behavior gets a food treat and what behavior doesn't.

Of course, all dogs are different, so in our PEC classes we work with each owner individually to help tweak the process when necessary. However, physical punishment for disobeying is never part of the equation.

Training With the Use of Punishment

A good example of "punishment-based" training is the long-standing, popular training technique of using a "choke" chain or training collar. Dogs are given a leash correction ("jerk") when they make the wrong choice, and the result is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful correction for the dog. Studies have shown that used inappropriately, 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, there is a much greater potential for misuse and harm to the dog. And, in some instances, dogs can learn the "wrong" thing when punishment is used. For example, if a dog jumps up to give a stranger a friendly greeting and is punished for jumping by being kneed in the chest, or jerked, pinched or even shocked, the dog may begin to associate strangers with pain. His greeting may soon go from overexcited friendly to wary and threatening because he now relates strangers with pain. Why not instead make it pleasant for everyone by giving your dog a treat when he sits for strangers. That way you can achieve a polite greeting and still have a dog who loves people!

Training Opportunities

Consider training your dog or puppy using positive training methods. A great start would be to attend one of the Michigan Humane Society Pet Education Center's classes or private lessons. These classes will put you on the road to having a well-behaved pet and will help to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

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