In previous posts I’ve discussed the importance of managing a dog’s social status as well as some of the controversies around this topic.
Another topic that’s directly related and generates even more heat is the question of what role positive reinforcement dog training and aversives should play.
The Yin and Yang of Dog Training
On one hand I have met many trainers who pride themselves on never using treats lest they merely bribe dogs into good behavior.
On the other hand there are others who claim—usually in sanctimonious tones—that any use of aversives is abuse – be it a squirt bottle or a collar correction.
In their view only “positive” methods that cause absolutely no discomfort are morally acceptable when training a dog.
Over the years I have experimented with about every training approach there is. The main conclusion I’ve drawn is that trainers who fall into either of the above camps are missing a lot. And because of that, they can’t help but shortchange their clients.
So what’s my view?
The Role of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
In developing the Integrated Dog Training approach, I have focused on and emphasized methods that involve a ton of positive reinforcement. These include treat based operant and classical conditioning, systematic desensitizing, counter-conditioning as well as the use of toys and affection to appeal to the dog’s various drives.
According to the Humane Society of the United States:
Positive reinforcement training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do. Because the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.
It’s the use of such methods that makes dogs want to learn and can make training a ton of fun. It’s also what can help reliably undermine difficult problem behaviors over the long haul.
The Role of Aversives
At the same time, like it or not, sometimes that just isn’t enough. In certain moments, we need to draw hard behavior boundaries while using lots of positives to develop new, desirable behaviors.
Recognizing this truth, Integrated Dog Training approach does not shy away from the use of compulsion and aversives in training. This can include the use of spray bottles, shake cans, occasional collar corrections and so on.
But this is not where the emphasis is.
An Inclusive Approach Is Best
As I have come to understand it over 21 years of training, aversive methods are often very helpful in initially suppressing behaviors and drawing very clear lines in the sand for the dog.
However, when we teach acceptable, wholesome alternatives using a variety of positive methods, we can reliably undermine most problem behaviors.
Exclusively preferencing one side over the other will often lead to unreliable results.
On the other hand, intelligently integrating these approaches tends to lead to lasting results and strong, mutually rewarding relationships between dogs, their owners and their children.
Want to learn more about preparing your dog for the arrival of your baby? Check out my book: Good Dog, Happy Baby