Reward Based Dog Training Versus Aversive Methods

What is Reward Based Dog Training?

In my dog training, I strongly advocate the use of ethical reward based dog training or to give it its formal name ‘Positive Reinforcement‘. This term comes from an animal learning theory called ‘Operant Conditioning’.

Reward Based Dog Training encompasses my own beliefs and ethics as a dog trainer. The best way to train your dog is to teach them what we want them to do, and then reward them for doing it, so that we increase the likelihood that they will repeat the behaviour. 

What Rewards are Effective in Dog Training?

I tend to use food to reward but it doesn’t have to be – rewards can be a game with a toy, physical massage from you, attention etc. The better the reward, the more likely your dog will do what it has been asked to and the quicker they will learn.

This is similar to you going to work, and getting your salary for this. There are four important aspects to consider when rewarding our dogs; the amount of reward (it is only one piece or is it a handful), the value of the reward (is it a bit of kibble or is it sausage) and the placement of the reward and the timing of when the reward is given.

We also often seem to be in a rush to “stop the treats” or head out for a walk without rewards. If I suggested to you that you have been going to your job for a year now and so I’m going to stop your salary because it’s a pattern and you should continue to keep going… how many of you would?

What are Adversive Methods and Why are They Ineffective?

Dog training techniques and thinking have moved significantly since the old traditional days of Barbara Woodhouse etc. It is true, you can train your dog through aversive methods such as choke chains, electric shock collars, hitting them, shouting at them, yanking their lead, spraying water in their face, citronella collar (spays it in their face when they bark). Whilst saying ‘no’ or ‘ah-ah’ and numerous other methods that have been used over the years and sadly (in my mind) still used today.

This type of training is still part of Operant Conditioning Theory and is called “positive punishment” or “negative reinforcement” depending on the actual circumstances. Your dog will do what it is told to avoid being hurt/ made uncomfortable either physically or emotionally. But ask yourself this – do you have a happy dog? Recent research shows us that dogs trained this way are three times more likely to bite than a dog that is trained using rewards.

Why I Use Positive Reinforcement Methods

Let me put it simply. I want you to sit on the sofa. You don’t want to sit down particularly. So I offer you a piece of cake. You sit, you eat the cake. It’s all good. Next time, I ask you to sit, you might feel more inclined to because you have fond memories of the cake and you might get another piece!

Another time, I ask you to sit on the sofa. You don’t want to and so I shout at you and make you feel scared. You sit. Next time I ask you to sit, you sit because you want to avoid being shouted at and displeasing me. Which one makes you feel happy and content? You sit in both of the scenarios and I have achieved my goal.

What if your dog is doing something we don’t like? I’m sure you have all been advised by your trainers at some time or another to ignore the behaviour you don’t like. This is also part of operant conditioning theory and is known as “negative punishment”. Sounds awful right? It actually means that you remove something the dog wants (your attention) in order to decrease a behaviour. When your dog is not rewarded for the jumping up (for example), the behaviour is likely to stop. It’s the least aversive method to use when wanting to change behaviour we don’t like.

What Motivates Your Dog

As humans also tend to be happier and more content if we are praised for the things we do well. We don’t tend to cope well with being criticised or with lots of negative feedback. It can make us disheartened, lessen our motivation to continue trying and generally affect our confidence and self-esteem. Our beautiful dogs can be the same. 

If you would like to find out more about the theory behind your dog’s behaviour and discover positive reinforcement training methods. Please do contact Hannah’s Hounds Dog Training and I would be more than happy to support you and your dog in making developmental progress.

You can contact me via email at hannahs.hounds@yahoo.com or you can call me on 07746 149 641. I offer a variety of dog and puppy training services and can tailor your training to suit your individual support needs.