Reward-based dog training, also known as positive reinforcement training, is a method that focuses on rewarding desirable behaviors rather than punishing unwanted behaviors. This training approach uses positive reinforcement and rewards, to encourage good behavior and establish a bond between the dog and the owner. This can be as simple as food reward, going through to using your dog’s specific breeding, predatory motor patterns or genetic needs. In this blog post, we will discuss reward-based dog training from the dog’s perspective and explain who other forms of training, known as balanced training ‘work’.
From a dog’s perspective, reward-based training is naturally a fun and enjoyable experience, mostly as its very focussed on educating the dog as to what’s required of them. Centuries of breeding has instilled this as a dog’s natural drive, among others. Dogs are social creatures that crave attention and affection from their owners, and positive reinforcement training provides just that by helping to form a partnership in which failures are acceptable so long as we are striving to get to the right place. When a dog performs a desired behavior, they are rewarded, which encourages them to repeat the behavior. Failing, on the other hand doesn’t produce punishment, so the dog isn’t afraid to learn along with the owner, promoting bond and a positive relationship.
In contrast, balanced training, which uses additional punishments in the training to ‘correct’ unwanted behaviors, tends to focus on the outcome rather than the journey. This can yield results, but with an additional cost. This method can involve using electric collars, prong collars, slip leads or other aversive techniques to punish a dog for what the owner sees as ‘misbehaving’ which is MUCH more usually that the dog doesn’t understand the requirement, or is in such a mental state that they cannot think at all. Imagine being dragged from the middle of a blazing row, only to be asked to do some advanced algebra… Even IF you knew what was expected of you, you’re hardly in the right mental state to achieve things effectively. From a dog’s perspective, this type of training can be confusing and stressful. Dogs may not understand why they are being punished, which can damage the bond between the owner and the dog, while also not really educating the dog on what to do.
Sure… We might be able to teach a dog what NOT to do… Don’t jump up. But not what they should do instead… Feet on the ground. Also, if they get over stimulated, they will get another correction for only being excited to see you, AND they will be living with that hanging over their head in the meantime. This is the textbook definition of anxiety and causes a cortisol build-up… The stress hormone. Not a feeling… A natural, uncontrollable, medical, and chemical reaction in their body.
Balanced training can also lead to fear and aggression in dogs for this very reason. Dogs that are subjected to punishment-based training may become fearful or aggressive towards their owners, other people, or other dogs. This is because they associate triggers (like stress around people or dogs) to punishment, with pain or discomfort linked to that, which can trigger and fuel all sorts of unwanted responses. Over time, this can create a vicious cycle where the dog becomes increasingly aggressive and fearful, leading to more punishment and more fear.
I hear a lot about dogs not needing corrections very often, and this sadly proves the point a little. The correction may only need to happen a small number of times, and after that it gets replaced with the fear of correction. That’s with the dog every day, and generalises to the next thing, and the next, and the next.
Reward-based training, on the other hand, helps to build trust and confidence in dogs. Dogs that are trained using positive reinforcement tend to exhibit things we would call safety and security with their owners, as displayed through their body language and problem-solving skills. They learn that certain behavior is rewarded, and they are more likely to repeat that behavior in the future, whereas ‘bad’ behaviours are simply not engaged with. This type of training also helps to establish a strong bond between the owner and the dog, which can lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling relationship as the dogs get constant input as to correct boundaries, expectations and what can be expected from their owner. And they’re not afraid to try and fail, as failure doesn’t mean punishment.
Another advantage of reward-based training is that it allows dogs to use their natural instincts and abilities… In fact, we commonly use those unique things as training rewards and tools, as not ever dog is the same. Dogs are intelligent animals that thrive on mental stimulation and physical activity. Reward-based training provides them with both, allowing them to use their natural instincts to solve problems and learn new skills.
In conclusion, reward-based dog training is a fun, effective, and humane way to train your dog. From a dog’s perspective, positive reinforcement training is an enjoyable and fulfilling experience that helps to build trust, confidence, and a strong bond with their owner. Punishment-based training, on the other hand, can lead to fear, aggression, and a damaged bond between the owner and the dog. If you want to build a strong, positive relationship with your dog, consider using reward-based training techniques.