Eager dog waiting for treats

Several types of dog training exist but none are as effective as positive dog training methods. Some methods of dog training are outright cruel and inhumane and unfortunately still fairly popular and easy to find even though they don’t produce lasting results! Positive methods of dog training result in happy dogs that are actively looking to do the right thing.

What is positive dog training?

Positive dog training is a method of training that relies heavily on reinforcing desired behaviors. This means that when a dog does something you like or want, they get paid for their effort. As a direct result they do the things that are rewarding more frequently instead of looking for other ways to entertain themselves. When their owner is a source of potential payment, the dogs learn to be much more attentive because there is opportunity to earn. In short, dogs trained in this fashion ultimately do the right thing more often than dogs trained using punishment based methods.

Doesn’t punishment based training encourage good behavior?

The short answer is no. Think of it like a speeding ticket. When you’re caught speeding, you must pay a fine. For most people, even though fines may be fairly high, it doesn’t actually remove the desire to speed or stop one from ever doing it again. It makes drivers more careful and watchful for cops, as opposed to eliminating the habit or removing the desire to speed. Plus if you get pulled over enough your opinion of police in general may begin to sour. If a speeder knows that there is no danger of getting a ticket then there’s not really much incentive to not speed.

The same goes for dog training. Dogs very quickly can and do learn when they might get punished. So Fido might avoid digging in the trash while you’re around, but happily do so when you’re away. Spike might avoid stealing food from the counter when you’re watching, but as soon as your back is turned he pilfers it. The list of misbehavior that can go on when someone isn’t looking is endless, and often are things that dogs have been punished for before, or things that their owners are sure the dogs know not to do. It is ineffective at actually eliminating bad behaviors.

Punishment does not remove the desire to cause mischief. It merely suppresses it until the dog deems it ‘safe’ to perform the unwanted behavior.

The risks of punishment based training

There is more bad news with punishment based training. In addition to being ineffective it can cause relationship problems between you and your dog. Punishment doesn’t only suppress the unwanted behaviors, it suppresses ALL behaviors including normal dog behaviors such as play. The waters are generally very muddy when it comes to a dog understanding exactly what he did to get punished. As a consequence the dog will become more cautious and perhaps even fearful in aspects of their life; in their mind anything could bring punishments.

Most punishments do not occur the instant a dog does something wrong. For example, if you touch a hot stove and are burned, you have nearly instant feedback on what happened and are less likely to touch the stove again. The punishment is impersonal, extremely short, and happens only when you’re touching the hot stove. In contrast, punishments that dogs may encounter in their lives are very messy. They are often full of emotion, prolonged, inconsistent, and frequently happen after the unwanted deed has been done. This makes punishment inherently confusing which will reduce a dog’s overall confidence. Dogs also learn to associate punishment with those who are punishing them, so can develop fear problems with those that punish them, and even with those that don’t. Plus they aren’t learning what to do instead of the unwanted behavior, so many continue to do the “wrong” thing.

In dog training the scenarios in which a punishment is the correct course of action are nearly nonexistent. However, the things that an average dog owner wants their dog to do are numerous and so there are countless opportunities for a dog to be rewarded.

Training fallout

Aggressive dog snarling

The negative consequences with punishment don’t stop there. When used indiscriminately or incorrectly during training, punishment can cause dogs to crumble and no longer perform cues that they’ve learned. A good example is a dog that no longer comes when called because the owner has punished them for running away. The dog does knew the command in the past, but because of trauma, now treats it as something to be wary of and doesn’t listen. This is what a poisoned cue is. Often these can’t be fixed but must be retaught.

Defensive behavior and aggression can be heightened with punishment. The dog doesn’t like being punished and tries to stop it from happening by being aggressive and attacking before they can are punished. These can be simple threat displays, such as showing teeth or growling, or full blown attacks. These types of behaviors are dangerous and can put roadblocks in training, as well as injure you in the process.

Dogs can also enter a state called learned helplessness, which is exactly what it sounds like. These dogs have given up and essentially endure the punishment given to them because in their world nothing they do will stop it.

The list of issues with punishment training goes on, and there are no benefits that it provides.

Effectiveness of Reward methods

Reward based training methods work better than any other methods we know of. A great example is exotic animals and sea life are trained. How would one punish a dolphin or a killer whale? It is impossible to use those methods of training with these animals and the elaborate shows that are put on for the public use entirely reward based methods. The same goes for exotic animals used for TV or zoo animals, who must be trained accept handling from their keepers and vets. None of these results are possible with punishment based methods.

If that’s not enough evidence, then take a look at dog sports. These days the winners and top performers will never ever be using punishment based training systems. It doesn’t produce results that are even good enough to be competitive. As the forerunners of the dog training community, this fact speaks for itself.

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