Traditionally, dog training techniques worked on the basis of the reward vs. punishment dynamic, with punishment being the more prevalent teaching tool. Harsh sanctions against unwanted behavior were the norm. But in recent years, the dog training world has been experiencing a rapid shift from the old training techniques to more positive, reward-based methods.
As defined by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), dog-friendly training is “training that utilizes primarily positive reinforcement; secondarily negative punishment, and only occasionally, rarely, and/or as a last resort includes positive punishment and/or negative reinforcement.” Positive dog training seeks to use training methods that are not detrimental to the owner’s relationship with his or her dog. This means thinking in terms of rewards, not punishment, as the main tool for shaping your pet’s behavior and using learning devices that avoid physical pain, intimidation or fear.
The reason positive training methods have gained popularity is because they work. Their success lies in the fact that, like people, and nearly all other animals, dogs will keep doing things that are rewarding and stop doing things that result in no rewards or are outright ignored. No punishment is required. Just the lack of a reward is, most of the time, enough.
The trick is not to have lots of treats at hand all the time, but rather to control the outcome of your dog’s behavior. If take this bit of dog training advice and use it every day, you will quickly be able to lead your dog towards the desire behavior.
How it works
The two concepts under which positive dog training techniques function are associative learning and operant conditioning.
Associative learning says that if two things consistently happen at the same time, we eventually start expecting one as soon as we see or experience the other. This is sometimes referred to as Pavlovian conditioning, a term that derived from psychologist Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiments with dogs. In his research, Pavlov conditioned a group of canines to salivate at the sound of a metronome, because they came to associate the sound with the appearance of meat powder.
Operant conditioning, the other concept underlying the positive dog training method, involves the use of consequences as a means to modify canine behavior. Rewarding desired behavior and ignoring undesired behavior results in the near complete elimination of unwanted behavior.
One of the reasons that positive training is so effective is because it separates learning the behavior from learning the command. By associating stimulus with desired behavior, positive dog training lets the dog learn a behavior first. Then, a verbal command can be added. By breaking down the process of learning, positive training creates easy benchmarks for both dog and owner.
In traditional dog training, people tried to teach the desired behavior by saying the verbal command while physically forcing the dog to perform the desired behavior. Methods of traditional training often require the use of violence, via choke collars, prong collars and electric shocks. The idea was to use pain to coerce dogs into adopting a behavior.
This is not only painful for the dogs, but it is also a lot less effective than positive dog training techniques.
Effectiveness of Positive Dog Training
Most trainers today agree that positive dog training techniques are more effective than traditional training methods. Positive techniques tend to have better timing and focus more on specific behaviors, which helps accelerate the training process.
Corporal punishment and coercion, on the other hand, will often lead to a dog becoming aggressive and violent. Additionally, the use of pain increases a dog’s stress levels and actually impairs its ability to learn. Not to mention the fact that physical intimidation will break a dog’s spirit and make him a lot less confident around other animals and crowds.
Positive dog training eliminates the use of pain and physical coercion. This creates a stronger bond between owner and dog, as the animal will look to its owner for leadership and will look forward to performing desired behavior.
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