How rewarding - the pros of using positive reinforcement training on your dog
Positive punishment training and positive reinforcement training are both used for the intention of producing an obedient and mannered companion animal, however they differ in the approach taken and the outcomes produced.
Positive reinforcement: adding something the animal wants in order to increase the likelihood that the behaviour will occur again. E.g. rewarding with a treat when the dog sits
Positive punishment: adding something aversive in order to decrease the likelihood that the behaviour will occur again. E.g. yelling “No” when the dog chews something it shouldn’t.
Pros of positive reinforcement based training!
Animals must be trained properly in order to be well-mannered and trustworthy in a variety of situations and contexts. We believe that a partnership exists between human and companion animal rather than a hierarchy of sorts. We train our pets tricks like sit, stay, fetch, etc., which not only generate a polite and obedient animal but also reinforces the bond between human and companion animal. And what better way to train your companion animal than with love, affection, and food!
Here are some positives associated with positive reinforcement training (i.e. reward-based methods):
If you reward your dog with something he wants as soon as he does what you ask, he is more likely to do it again and be more obedient (Hiby et al., 2004).
Dogs who only receive reward-based training are less likely to have behaviour problems (Blakwell et al., 2008).
Reward-based training promotes the welfare of your dog by decreasing their stress level (see stats above regarding more stress in the animal that is trained with a confrontational approach, e.g. leash tugs).
Dogs are happier when they receive a reward for their work (McGowan et al., 2013)
A more motivated dog to complete a task will complete the task more quickly (Rooney and Cowan, 2011).
Cons of dominance-based or positive punishment based training
Dog owners use the word ‘dominant’ in different ways; however, it can often imply that the owner must assert their dominance over their dog. This terminology and perspective is quite out-of-date and very risky in dog training. Often dominance-based training is coupled with corrective training, where the owner is correcting the dogs behaviour in a manner that causes the dog discomfort and alters the dog’s behaviour in a different way than the owner intended. For instance, one may think that a dog growling at their owner is the dog’s way of displaying their dominance so owners may punish their dog for this behaviour. In this dominance-based approach, the owner would be essentially punishing the dog for displaying that they are uncomfortable. Thus, the dog will be less likely to display this warning sign of discomfort and over time these signs will stop being displayed and the dog will instead skip to the end zone – biting. Therefore, dominance-based training does come with the increased risk of dog bites and may inadvertently produce more behaviour concerns than were present before.
Here are some issues associated with dominance-based training (i.e. positive punishment approach):
31% of people who did an alpha roll, 39% of people who forced the dog to let go of something from their mouth, and 43% of people who hit their dog reported an aggressive response in the dog. (Herron et al., 2009).
For people that use aversive training techniques, their dogs are 2.9 times more likely to be aggressive to a family member and 2.2 times more likely to be aggressive to a stranger outside of the home than if reward-based training was used (Casey et al., 2014).
A higher frequency of punishment is associated with an increased prevalence of aggression and excitability (Arhant et al., 2010).
Dogs trained to sit and walk on leash using leash tugging and pushing the dog into a sit position showed more signs of stress (mouth-licking, yawning, and lowered body posture) compared to those that were taught with reward-based methods (Deldalle and Gaunet, 2014).
One study by Protopopova et al. (2016) looked at the use of solving barking issues using treats instead of using aversive citronella or electronic anti-bark collars and found that when the dogs were rewarded for every period of quiet, 3 out of the 5 dogs were successfully trained to reduce their barking frequency.
Overall, it helps to put yourself in your pet’s position and think of how they would like to be taught and how they would like to interact with you. Training is and should be a positive experience for both the companion animal and the owner.
If you need some help to put reward-based training into practice, seek professional advice.
Arhant, C., Bubna-Littitz, H., Bartels, A., Futschik, A., & Troxler, J. (2010). Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 123 (3-4), 131-142
Blackwell, E., Twells, C., Seawright, A., & Casey, R. (2008). The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 3 (5), 207-217
Casey, R., Loftus, B., Bolster, C., Richards, G., & Blackwell, E. (2014). human directed aggression in domestic dogs (canis familiaris): occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 152, 52-63
Deldalle, S., & Gaunet, F. (2014). Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (canis familiaris) and on the dog–owner relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9 (2), 58-65
Herron, M., Shofer, F., & Reisner, I. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117 (1-2), 47-54
Mcgowan, R., Rehn, T., Norling, Y., & Keeling, L. (2013). Positive affect and learning: exploring the “eureka effect” in dogs. Animal Cognition, 17 (3), 577-58
Protopopova, A., Kisten, D., & Wynne, C. (2016). Evaluating a humane alternative to the bark collar: automated differential reinforcement of not barking in a home-alone setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 49(4):735-744
Rooney, N., & Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner–dog interactions: links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132 (3-4), 169-177