Training Using Positive Reinforcement
When training, we use positive reinforcement, ideally force free, and reward based training to encourage the dog to want to do the behaviours we ask. If the dog consistently gets rewarded for doing what we ask, then it will be encouraged to complete these wanted behaviours more often.
We want to create a relationship between ourselves and the dog where the dog understands what it is we are asking of it, and finds completing these behaviours rewarding.
Positive training assists in self-confidence and morale in the dog. In moments of uncertainty, the dog will take comfort from clarity on what is wanted from it, and being rewarded for doing these behaviours, reducing the chance of problem behaviours caused by fear stress or anxiety.
It develops good habits from us as owners, we learn to teach the dogs good behaviours, instead of reprimand unwanted behaviours. Training using positive reinforcement is far more enjoyable that using punishment. We begin to look for the good things that our dogs are doing, rather than looking and waiting for mistakes to reprimand.
What is Force Free?
“The more physical control we have to take when controlling our dogs, the less control we actually have”
When we are teaching our dogs, it is about engaging their brains. Communicating to them what it is we want from them in that moment and rewarding them for doing so.
Taking physical control of a situation, may temporarily stop any unwanted behaviours from a dog, but we may be suppressing communication patterns, creating frustration or punishing the dog and so compounding our problem.
Most of us can take control of a dog physically in most circumstances, because we are stronger than them. But that does not teach the dog how to behave in a situation. We have not engaged their brains.
For example, if I want to train my dog to walk to heel, I should avoid holding the leash tight and forcing the dog into being by my side. Rather, I should use what motivates the dog, and reward the dog to choose to by my side as I am walking.
A dog that is being held on a tight leash will be confused, because it will not understand why it is happening to them. It may become frustrated because it cannot get to where it wants to be, or worse, feel trapped because it cannot get away from what is stressing it out. (This removes the flight option and only leaves fight in a panic situaion, it is often the cause of leash reactivity). Eventually it may learn helplessness, which is where the dog gives up trying to do anything but comply. This is not dog training, this is dog bullying, it also reduces the amount of verbal cues we give our dogs which is detrimental to recall, reducing its likelyhood of coming back when called when off leash.
With a loose leash, so that we maintain a level of control for safety reasons, A dog that is given the choice, to come and walk next to us on its own accord, and is rewarded for doing so each time will choose to do so. We can pair this behaviour with verbal cues and over time, condition the dog to walk to heel when asked as well as set the foundation for future recall training.
The Dangers of Using Punishment as a Training Method
Using punishment as a training method can be extremely effective, in principle. The problem is the practicality of it when applying it to dog training.
The dogs brain is always present, if we are to punish an unwanted behaviour, we must catch the behaviour either during or within half a second of the dog completing the behaviour. After then, the dog has no ability to link any actions we take, good or bad, to the behaviour.
We would have to punish the behaviour every single time for it to be effective. If there is no consistency, the dog will remain confused and so will continue to complete the behaviour on occasion. The punishment will have to be at the same aversive level each time, and from each individual administering the punishment.
To stop the unwanted behaviour, the punishment we administer must be intense enough to stop it. This is a problem for most people, because most disagree with punishment on a moral level, especially to an animal that we cannot communicate verbally with.
If we consistently, attempt to punish the dog at an intensity the dog does not perceive as negative enough to stop, we can unintentionally begin to reinforce the behaviour, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to repeat it, by drawing attention to it from ourselves. The dog may start to notice that every time it completes this behaviour, we interact with them, which they may find rewarding.
Training using positive reinforcement is far more enjoyable that using punishment. Having to constantly correct problem behaviours will inevitably create a negative association of your dog. We only get a dog for enjoyment reasons, and so we should take the appropriate steps to ensure that we have a healthy relationship.
A dog that is scared to complete behaviours, for risk of punishment, having not been taught what is expected from it is likely to live a life of fear and confusion. This, in itself, causes more problem behaviours than any other factor due to fear stress and anxiety.
Frustration in it not working
Because dogs do not have theory of mind, the aim of punishment is for the dog to learn that it does not ever want to complete that behaviour again. Not that we don’t want it to. This does not make behaviours such as finding food in the bin any less tasty, sofas any less comfortable or running after other dogs to play with more boring than coming back to you.