By Veronica Rigatti, Canine Behavior Technician
Training a canine companion takes time and patience. Sometimes, our four-legged friends struggle to understand what we are asking of them. So, how do we cross this language barrier between pups and people? At Animal Friends, we use positive reinforcement training.
The main idea behind positive reinforcement is that praising your dog has much more effective, long-term results than punishing them. But what exactly does positive reinforcement involve?
Let’s get into the specifics…
If your dog does something good, you should reward their behavior with treats, toys or positive attention. Your dog will want to repeat that behavior again and again so they can continue to be rewarded! Over time, your dog will begin to consistently exhibit the good behaviors that you’re hoping for. Positive reinforcement training makes your dog happy while the good behaviors they are learning will make you happy – everybody wins! This type of training also builds trust between you and your animal companion, which will strengthen the bond you share for years to come.
Often times, training a dog isn’t a simple task. You will likely experience bumps in the road, but that’s okay! Struggles and setbacks are all part of the learning process for you and your dog. The most important thing to remember is to be patient and give your dog time to understand what you are trying to teach them.
What should you do when your dog demonstrates an undesirable behavior? You can use positive reinforcement in these situations, too! For instance, if your dog barks every time you have a visitor, try teaching them to grab their favorite toy when there’s a knock at the door. They will be distracted by their toy and they won’t be able to bark because their mouth is full!
It’s important to recognize that training a dog comes with ups and downs and it is easy to get frustrated. Remember, you want your dog to love and trust you – punishing them instead of using positive reinforcement only teaches them to be afraid of you. This type of training can also be very harmful to a dog’s development and can cause new issues like fear, anxiety and even aggression.
Using force to punish a dog – like hitting, using choke or shock collars or yelling at them – simply teaches them to be afraid to act a certain way. While this may stop the negative behavior, it does not reinforce a positive one. As a result, the dog is likely to develop something known as “learned helplessness” where they will shut down and refuse to do anything because of fear of punishment. The result is a dog who is fearful of their owner and a very weak bond between the two of them.
According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) …
“The potential adverse effects [of using punishment] include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors and injury to animals and people interacting with animals. AVSAB recommends that training should focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, removing the reinforcer for inappropriate behaviors and addressing the emotional state and environmental conditions driving the undesirable behavior. This approach promotes a better understanding of the pet’s behavior and better awareness of how humans may have inadvertently contributed to the development of the undesirable behavior.”
Punishment can have a long-lasting impact on a dog and weakens the bond they share with their humans. There are so many reasons we recommend positive reinforcement at Animal Friends. It keeps pets and their people happy, it builds confidence – and it works!