Before starting to work with a training company, I didn’t have any particular philosophy on training styles or a preference towards techniques for figuring out how to get Topher to behave. However, one thing I knew: we would not be using any kind of force collar like choke, prong, or shock collars. Later, we updated that “not under any circumstances” list to include things like dominance rolling and hitting. Instead, we’re sticking to positive reinforcement dog training.
Though you might not expect it given his size (and his bark), Topher is a dog who shuts down at the drop of a hat. Our big oaf is eager to please, but he’s also easily scared and came to us brimming with anxieties. To work with Topher is to constantly take baby steps, making progress by overcoming these fears a bit at a time. However, even without our large dog’s equally large anxieties, the decision to stick with positive reinforcement dog training is a no brainer.
What Is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?
Positive reinforcement training, in a nutshell, is all about rewarding your dog for behaviors that you like, so there’s a better chance of that behavior being repeated. By praising good behavior and redirecting any unwanted behaviors, you change your dog’s habits without the use of force.
The more I seek out information on dog training, the more convinced I become: we’ll stick to positive reinforcement for the long haul. Here are a few reasons why.
It Strengthens Your Dog’s Bond with You
Here’s the tricky part of positive reinforcement training: before you can begin redirecting and solving your dog’s “bad” behaviors, you must first find out the causes of those behaviors. Only then can you work on how to change them, by giving your dog opportunities to learn and act differently. By connecting with your dog and working out these problems using humane methods, you strengthen your bond through mutual trust, affection, and encouragement.
The strongest bonds between dogs and their people are based on kindness, not dominance or fear. If your dog trusts you and feels good around you, they’ll be happier, more confident, more well behaved, and more responsive to your cues in the long term.
It Helps You Understand Your Dog
To change a dog’s actions using positive reinforcement requires an understanding of life from the view of your dog. First, you have to identify why they’re doing a certain behavior. Dealing effectively with those behaviors won’t work unless you know their root cause. When you know why, you can move onto the how: what can you do to treat of change this behavior? Answering “how,” will always lead to a greater understanding of your dog—which will help you learn how to communicate with them more effectively.
It Teaches Cooperation
By building the relationship with your dog positively, you’re teaching your dog to cooperate with you instead of teaching them to be submissive or suffer the consequences. A dog whose been constantly yanked around by their leash may eventually learn that yanking and pulling means they shouldn’t pull, but it won’t mean that dog has learned to cooperate or understand what you’re asking of them—to walk beside you, or to give you their attention—they’re simply avoiding certain behaviors out of fear.
Consider this: your dog doesn’t come into your home with all the knowledge of how you want them to behave. They make it up as they go. It’s up to you to teach them what you expect of them and how to cope with any situation that may come up by framing these lessons with positive experiences. Otherwise, you’ve got a dog walking on eggshells, never knowing what they’ll be yelled at for next.
It’s Less Stressful for Your Dog
Recently, positive training methods have proven to be more beneficial to our bond with our pets, in addition to having a positive effect on animal welfare in general. A 2014 study even showed that dogs trained using forceful or aversive methods show more signs of being stressed by these encounters than their positively trained counterparts. While its the first study to have been confirmed by a trained, observing researcher, it upholds several other studies that claim positive training strengthens our bonds with our pets and significantly lowers their stress.
It’s Safer for You and Your Dog
Many pet owners may not realize that punishing your dog in a dominant or aggressive way can actually increase the chances that your dog will respond aggressively. In 2009, a study conducted on the effects of confrontational training methods found that those owners who were the most aggressive or dominant towards their dogs experienced the most returns of aggression from their dogs.
Since then, there have been several other studies confirming similar findings: attempts to “assert dominance” using aggression or force results in even more aggression from our pets. If we can teach so many different undomesticated animals to respond to cues using only positive reinforcement, certainly we can teach our own pets without the use of aggression or force.
It Doesn’t Mean Total Anarchy
There is a common misconception that positive reinforcement creates an environment where owners indulge their pets in whatever behaviors they see fit, good, bad, or even ugly! Force free training doesn’t mean becoming a door mat for your dog; however, it does mean teaching your dog how to make good decisions without bullying, force, or domination. It takes patience and hard work, but in the end positive training sets your dog up for success that is long lasting and healthier than any dominance method we’ve seen.