What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement training is the modern, strongly researched approach to dog training. It emphasizes humane and safe techniques to encourage long-term healthy behaviors in both dogs and their owners. By maintaining a relationship of trust and rewarding the behaviors you want to see in your dog – instead of making them afraid of you and stressed by their environment – you create a lasting bond with your canine friend that is constantly encouraging them to recreate desired behaviors and increase their drive for learning. Positive reinforcement training is the go-to approach from renowned behavioral experts such as Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Jean Donaldson, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and organizations such as The Pet Professional Guild.
For more on Force -Free training, visit Building Bonds.
What is Dominance Theory, and Why Doesn’t It Work?
Dominance Theory is a well-known, albeit outdated, approach to dog training. It often includes the use of force and punishing tools (including but not limited to prong or “choke” collars, electric collars and fences, and alpha rolling to assert “dominance”) to train dogs to fear undesired behaviors, while failing to teach them what positive behaviors we are wanting them to recreate in the first place. Instead of being viewed as their teacher and protector, you become the primary source of their pain and fear, and this can extend into their ability to trust other people and animals. By participating in negative-reinforcement or forceful approaches we are conditioning them to be intimidated by our presence and what might upset us, instead of showing them how clearly defined positive behaviors makes them (and you!) feel happy and safe. At its best, forceful training conditions the dog to fear their loved ones and discourage their desire to learn and train with you (after all, if learning something new from someone is extremely painful or stressful for you – why would you want to do it?), and at its worst has caused numerous injuries and death from the physical abuse and the consequences of unmanaged anxieties and learned helplessness.
Training Myths and FAQ
“If it gets results, then what does it matter?”
Dogs (and all pets) are meant to be our companions, and they rely solely on us for their care and support! They do not choose to be adopted into your home or to have been domesticated from hundreds of years ago, and so the responsibility lies with us to treat them right when we decide to care for them. Their lives are short and revolve mostly around waiting for us to get home from work and other responsibilities to interact with them – why would we want those interactions to be filled with fear and apprehension?
“Negative reinforcement has been around for a long time, and even has its own popular dog trainer supporting it! Surely it can’t be that bad?”
The main issue with these approaches is that by being forceful and thereby causing stress and pain, we are fostering a fearful relationship between the dog and people. These popular shows also fail to show whenever a dog or non-professional human sustains injuries or trauma from a forceful approach. A dog that does not trust people is unlikely to want or even know how to please them, and often has increased signs of aggression and destructive behaviors. Destruction through fear is especially a vicious cycle, as force and punishments will increase their stress and thereby increase their desire to “release” the stress through the destructive or anti-social behavior. Positive reinforcement shows the dog through firsthand experience that pleasing people is desirable for everyone involved and makes them feel safe. It also doesn’t pose the same physical or mental risks to the owner and their dog that forceful training does.
To put it simply: When trying to help someone through unnecessary fear or anxiety over a situation – if you increase their fear and stress, it’s unlikely to get them to move past it and react in a healthy way. It is more effective to show that they do not need to be afraid. The same holds true for dogs!
Aren’t dogs always striving to be the “alpha” and “dominate” me?
The truth is most undesired behaviors stem from the individual dog’s own insecurities and are manifested from to their desire to feel safe or humans misunderstanding of what is ‘normal’ dog behavior.The same researchers that initially proposed the very popular “Alpha Dog” myth later went on to retract their findings acknowledging their data was flawed. Moreover, dogs are hundreds of years removed from their wild ancestors, and in their domestication have changed and come to rely on us to both teach and care for them throughout their lives. We are always expanding our knowledge on their capacity to learn and interact with us. As Victoria Stillwell herself put it: “Positive is not the same as permissive.” Using a technique that is safer and has better immediate and long term results is simply moving forward with our understanding of our animal companions.
The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement
- Promotes healthy socialization and trusting relationships with owners and family
- Increases drive for learning and helps prevent future behavior problems through healthy stimulation
- Positive reinforcement training is fun for everyone involved, and safe for families with children!
- It involves only humane techniques which keep you and your dog free of dangerous situations
- Positive reinforcement helps address the root cause of an undesired behavior by encouraging healthy reactions to stressful or unfamiliar situations.
“The animal training industry is completely unregulated and anyone can call themselves an animal behavior professional in spite of having no formal education or qualifications. So what can consumers do to protect themselves?” See the answers to this question in this article.
For those of you who are actively looking for a trainer, we highly suggest you use The Pet Professional Guild to begin your search. However, force-free does not guarantee competency, so feel free to reach out to our rescue (firstname.lastname@example.org) for guidance on obtaining local trainers!
Animal Training / Animal Learning
The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, Patricia B. McConnell
- Train your Dog Positively, Victoria Stilwell
- The Culture Clash, 2nd Edition, Jean Donaldson
- How To Teach a New Dog Old Tricks, Ian Dunbar
- Raising a Behaviorally Healthy Puppy, Suzanne Hetts & Daniel Estep
- The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller
- Don't Shoot The Dog, Karen Pryor
- Exel-erated Learning: Explaining How Dogs Learn & How Best to Teach Them, Pam Reid
- Psychology of Learning and Behavior, 5th Edition, Barry Schwartz et al.
Victoria Stilwell, bestselling author and host of the TV show “It’s Me or the Dog” has an excellent website that guides you along the path of force free training your dog: Positively.com
Pat Miller, bestselling author and certified trainer with over 35 years of experience, now runs a training and boarding facility in Fairplay, Maryland. Sign up for courses or learn about training: Peaceable Paws
Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training is a fun and easy way to teach dogs of any age new tricks and to build a strong and lasting bond with your canine companion: Clicker Training
Dr. Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian, animal behaviorist and writer of numerous bestselling books. His website gives tips and advice on training: Dog Star Daily
Trainers Academy is based out of Troy, MI, but has excellent blogs and advice, as well as readable resources: Woofology
Veterinarian and Animal Behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin has an informative and up to date website on applied techniques to training your companion animals. She also lectures and teaches workshops internationally on animal behavior and low stress handling and has served as a behavior expert for shows such as Dogs 101 on Animal Planet. She is also on the executive board for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Handling Guidelines Committee, and the American Humane Association (AHA) Animal Behavior and Training Advisory Committee.
The erroneous approach to canine social behavior known as dominance theory (two million-plus Google hits) is based on a study of captive zoo wolves conducted in the 1930s and 1940s by Swiss animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel, in which the scientist concluded that wolves in a pack fight to gain dominance, and the winner is the alpha wolf. Since the study, even the original author has concluded this theory is not valid! See article here.
Time Magazine article on the debunking of Dominance Theory.
Recent research suggests that the use of punishment during dog training leads to increased aggression. Published on May 24, 2012 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. Results of this research show that punishing techniques on dogs has much the same effect that the use of physical punishment has on human children which is in particular an increase in aggressive behavior in general, and specifically increased aggression toward the individual who is applying the punishment. See article here.
“Why Won’t Dominance Die?” an article in UK’s Association of Pet Behavious Counsellors takes a look at the reasons that the dominance myth persists even though it is widely debunked theory among scientists and even the original scientists who purported the original dominance theory.
In 2016, these studies reveal what our dogs are thinking that devices such as shock collars may be banned in the United States and other countries who have not already done so. Other controversial methods such as pinch and choke collars may also become obsolete as we digest how our dogs feel about such methods. See article here.
Is your dog trainer competent?
"To give the impression that a fundamental principle of animal learning is just another 'method' that may or may not work in a specific case supports the idea that dog training is an open playing field for anyone who wants to have a go at it. It ignores the importance of a solid scientific basis for behavior modification and it allows hacks and quacks to cheapen the dog training industry."
Victoria Stilwell's Positive vs. Punitive Dog Training:
Dr. Ian Dunbar explains the dog’s point of view, and the current rift in training:
Ian Dunbar's Effective Dog Training:
The science behind ‘dominance” theory disproved and the fluid relationship in wolf packs
YouTube Channels with step by step instructions for dog training, clicker training and behavior modification.
Complete 'how to' free videos on dog training, clicker training and behavior modification by world renowned dog trainer Emily Larlham. Emily uses only Progressive Reinforcement Training. A type of training that involves no forms of physical or psychological intimidation. Visit her website for more free information on this way of training animals that is not only the safest, but yields the most amazing results and creates the strongest trust and bond you could possibly have with your dog. Dog training tips, clicker training tutorials, free behavior modification help
Doghouse TV offers dog training tutorials, Interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, force free campaign and whatever else the Doghouse team are getting up to! Check out his Facebook page here.
Here you will find scientifically accurate, humane dog training information. Find out how to turn any dog into a show-stopping super dog! If you like what you see, consider subscribing to support a positive, progressive way of teaching animals.
Pam’s Dog Academy
This is the official YouTube channel of Pamela Johnson. For additional interaction, see her Facebook page here. She makes instructional videos on dog behavior/tricks, dog training tips and dog sports.
Clicker Training Tutorial
Tutorials on clicker training dog tricks, behavior modification and some random videos of her two lovely Border Collies, Holly (5 years, black and white) and Mabel (3 years, merle), Vinnie the Poodle (14 years young) and little Princess (7 years).