It’s time to hit the books again–another school year is starting. The two-legged kids will get on the bus, but our four-legged “fur babies” could use some learning too! Every dog, no matter how old, can benefit from some positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement is quite the buzzword among dog owners these days, but what exactly does it mean, and why is it the best option?
Dogs, as a species, aim to please and are very likely to perform or repeat behaviors that seem to make their owners happy. If these behaviors are reinforced, the dog will continue to repeat them, whereas behaviors that result in no reward or in a perceived punishment will probably not happen anymore. Positive reinforcement training means rewarding the behaviors that are desired (such as “sit”) and ignoring the behaviors that are undesirable (like barking). For most dogs, beginning with a food reward is a great way to encourage a behavior. Eventually, the treat will not be used every time– this is called fading the lure and is a gradual process that results in the dog performing the command without any physical reward at all. Positive reinforcement can be used to train a variety of behaviors, from a basic “sit” to complicated agility tricks, dance moves, hunting commands, and even nose/scent work. Training in this manner doesn’t just make a dog better-behaved, it provides healthy and constructive mental stimulation. Often, those dogs who exhibit
“nuisance” behaviors such as barking, chewing, or digging are simply bored and need some mental exercise. Positive reinforcement classes are available at every level of experience, and also offer the fantastic side benefit of socialization, or exposing a dog to new people/places/things and other dogs.
In contrast, there are many training methods that are not so positive. Shock collars, for example, are a punishment device that issue an electric shock when triggered with a remote. Most of the time, dogs aren’t able to make the connection between their behavior and the shock. This results in a fearful, anxious dog that may even begin to display signs of aggression. Many dogs do make the connection between the collar and the shock, though, and it is very common for owners to state that their dog behaves “perfectly” until the collar is removed. Leash corrections (using a choke or prong collar) can have similar consequences–the dog becomes fearful of or aggressive towards the collar
Here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, we are very passionate about positive reinforcement training–it not only helps to build and strengthen the bond between a dog and his owner, but it creates happy, well-adjusted, confident dogs who are able to interact with the world in a positive way. We include discussions of positive reinforcement training in every puppy’s first few visits, and our veterinarians are always ready and willing to make a personalized training recommendation for any dog.