Why train positively?

Why train positively?
110 Flares Filament.io 110 Flares ×

The idea behind training positive is not new, but it does require us to pause and consider what it really means in this context, and how it can be of help to people who are training their dogs. Imagine an approach to training your dog that considers how a dog learns and why they behave the way that they do. And when I talk about these explanations of behavior, I am referring to an empirically supported and scientific understanding of what we know to be accurate for decades through experimental psychology. Next, we develop a plan that takes into consideration the needs of the dog (something that can vary remarkably from one dog to another) and come up with strategies that will be effective in accomplishing the goal through encouragement.

When we train positively, we focus on what we would like our dog to do, instead of becoming too preoccupied with what we don’t like about what they are currently doing. Good habits are fortunately, just as hard to break as bad habits. Having said that, if a bad habit already exists, then we curb it using positive reinforcement methods as opposed to shunning the behavior through punishment and a vindictive mentality. Punishment can take the form of physical, verbal, or psychological aggression/intimidation. The reason why this is avoided is because it is not conducive to helping dogs learn. The brain circuitry of most animals, particularly dogs, is constructed in such a way that punishment activates a fear/threat ‘center’, and this we have also come to understand as being inhibitive of new learning. This does not mean that punishment does not ever work for any dog, as I’m sure many people will tell you how effective they have found it to be. What it means is that just because it works for some dogs, does not mean that it will work for all dogs. Similarly, just because it works for some dogs, does not mean that it is the best approach even for those dogs! Professionals who utilize positive reinforcement as their primary training strategy will be able to provide endless case examples of dogs they have worked with whose learning was not only inhibited as a SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAresult of punishment-based training, but was responsible for exacerbating the original problem.

Positive reinforcement develops a dog’s confidence and motivation to engage in the training process, as well as enhancing their skills as a learner. After a few sessions, the learning becomes faster, and is retained, maintained, and generalized across contexts very well. Perhaps the most worthy outcome of training positively is the relationship that emerges from the compassionate and respectful interactions that are engendered through this process. I am constantly in awe of a dog’s ability to develop deep bonds with their humans once we commit ourselves to nurturing them with love, support, and compassionate guidance.

To be clear, this is not advocacy for consistently sending positive messages regardless of the dog’s behavior. It is an introduction to the concept that even some of the most severe behavioral problems can be addressed through gentler means. We do this in a number of different ways. For example, it may include creating scenarios where the dog will exhibit desirable behaviors allowing us to capture and harness them, and then to gradually transfer them onto other situations. By properly managing the dog’s environment, we creatively address any and all behavior challenges.

110 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 106 Pin It Share 2 Google+ 2 Filament.io 110 Flares ×

With a background in psychology and behaviorism, I have combined my professional expertise and experience to promote positive dog training. As a strong supporter of a scientifically informed approach to training dogs, I produce educational dog training content to help people train their dogs more effectively.

Tagged with: , , , , ,

6 Comments on “Why train positively?

  1. This article should be mandatory reading for all people before they are allowed to adopt a pet. Positive reinforcement creates a win-win situation for the owner and the dog. What especially rang true is when you said, “creating scenarios where the dog will exhibit desirable behaviors” – that’s a powerful message that I think is missing from many training classes. Love your videos and techniques – thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with others. You can be sure that you have saved many dogs from going to shelters because their owners have found your videos. Great job!!

  2. Well said Relaine. It’s so much more wonderful to react positively or at least gently no matter the behaviour of the dog. Eventually, she’ll come around and you, your dog, other dogs, and other people will experience the benefits.

  3. Tab, love your videos! You should do a dvd based book, where each aspect is cataloged in the disk and there is also a book to go along with it. I have really enjoyed and learned a lot from your positive approach to dog training. I have read a lot of books on dog training and dogs in general (especially German Shepherd Dogs-OK I admit it they are my favorite since I was a kid) My two are German American crosses, which while I love the longevity the mix brings to the bloodlines, I feel the German lines are too aggressive for the American public in general. And I have and am still trying to slow my two dogs down. My male is much more calm than my female, but we are working on it day by day. Thanks for you great videos. Joe Berard

  4. I have a 6 year old GSD I came across you on you tube about 3 months ago. I’ve been to dog training with my dog Charlie and worked my way up to be a helper. I now take the first class (beginners)I would like to introduce clicker training. Do you have any advice about introducing it in to a class setting.
    By the way by following your video I have taught my dog to tidy up using your clicker methods

  5. Hi Tab,

    I too am a convert, having learned the hard way that even mildly dominating behavior can produce an anxious, timid dog. Fortunately, dogs are amazingly forgiving and loving, and seem to give us endless chances to learn lol.
    My question is fairly general and deals with temperament. I have a new, 4 month-old Chihuahua mix, Hachi. He is a wonderful, playful and very very smart, picking up basics like ‘sit’ and ‘come here’ quite fast. Using your techniques, and especially your positive POV, I’m seeing great results. What I’m not sure how o address however, is timidity. He is not afraid, per se, but, being a very tiny little guy (under 5 lbs so far)is understandably cautious, which results in him being quite tentative, and often not wanting to approach closely. I notice that if I crouch low, he is more willing to approach. But at times even his favorite treats don’t entice him. My feeling is that he is still developing his trust in us, so I am not too worried about this, but am wondering if you might have some guidance as to how best we might go about helping him gain confidence?
    Thank you for everything you do! I am so glad there are knowledgeable people like you who truly love and care about dogs, and who use evidence-driven, as opposed to ego-driven bases for their teaching!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.