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  • Writer's pictureCheryl @ BrightPaws

Positive Reinforcement in dog training...

Hey everyone!

I hope you are all coping throughout this lockdown and your dogs and pups are helping to keep your spirits high - Luna is certainly helping us! Sorry I've not posted anything for a while, it's been a very rough few months for our family and I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to Spring and better days ahead. :)

Today I thought I'd write just a wee short post on positive reinforcement and what that means when we are training our dogs. Far too often, I see people training their dogs using aversive methods, perhaps innocently and recommended by something they've seen on TV, read online or worse yet been told to do by a dog trainer. There have been several programmes recently on TV promoting the use of aversive training methods and of course those methods 'work' - almost instantly it would seem, however the dogs behaviour hasn't changed and using such methods is usually only a short term fix, rather than a long term solution. Let me explain...

Positive reinforcement in simple terms means adding something to the dogs life which will increase the likelihood of them repeating and offering the same behaviour again and again. For example, adding food, treats, toys, praise, sniffing sessions, walks, car journeys etc can really motivate a dog. A dog is much more likely to be motivated and repeat a behaviour which has previously earned them a reward i.e. something they really love. For Luna, she is incredibly food motivated. She is much more likely to repeat a behaviour, such as walking nicely on the lead, if she is motivated by the fact that it's likely she will be rewarded with food - this has worked for her many many times previously and there is a reward history there now. For me, I take part in a running race to be rewarded with pizza, cake and wine at the end, I definitely don't do it so that I can eat a salad! :)

Positive punishment on the other hand means adding something to a dog's life that makes the behaviour less likely to occur again. For example, it could be as simple as a pull/tighten of the dogs lead to stop them pulling, or the use of an e-collar or spray bottle to stop them barking. The reason these methods 'work' is because the dog stops the barking or pulling to avoid the pain or punishment. These aversive methods of dog training do not teach the dog what you like it to do, if anything it can actually damage the dog/owner relationship... do you really want a dog who is scared of you or the aversive method you are using to 'control' their behaviour?!

Instead how about using positive reinforcement to teach your dog to do the right thing instead of punishing them for doing the wrong thing. Telling a dog 'no' who is jumping up on you does not tell that dog what you would like it to do - try asking your dog for a sit instead, they can't possibly be jumping up and sitting at the same time. This is called a mutually exclusive behaviour and makes it clear to the dog what behaviour you'd like to see instead. If this 'sit' is reinforced with a reward, it is likely to be repeated again and again and the jumping up will stop.

Of course, positive reinforcement takes longer to achieve as it takes time to build up that 'reward history' but it makes for a much happier, more trusting dog and a stronger bond between the dog and their owner.

Positive punishment often offers much quicker 'results' - why - because the dog wants to avoid the pain or punishment of that tug on the lead and so they stop pulling. However they are likely to be less trusting of their owner, it can make the problem worse in the long term and it can make for an unhappy, fearful dog.

I know what kind of relationship I want with my dog... Now go and find out what motivates your dog and have fun training together. :)

Cheryl x

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