Positive dog training while increasingly popular in today’s canine community has been around since the ’60s. Karen Pryor started using it in the ’60s to train Dolphins and is considered by many to be the pioneer of modern “clicker training.”
For this article from here on out, I will refer to “clicker training” as “positive reinforcement” because you don’t have to use a clicker in positive training.
You can use a word or a sound you make with your mouth or hands. Positive training is commonly referred to as “marker training” too because the entire purpose of the method is to “mark” the desired behavior using either sounds or words.
Dog Obedience Training Using Positive Methods
- Dog Obedience Training Using Positive Methods
Positive training isn’t about being “super freak-o-paranoid” about corrections and being a happy friendly person to your dog. Positive training is about getting results that will save your dog’s life in the most stress-free manner available to you.
The positive training we’re talking about here uses positive reinforcement and negative punishment as the two primary concepts during the training process.
People are confused by the terms positive and negative. I know I was.
Let’s take a look at the terms commonly used in positive training.
Positive = you add something. Positive punishment is adding a leash correction. Positive reinforcement is adding a treat/praise.
Negative = you remove something. Negative Punishment is you remove the food or praise. Negative reinforcement is you remove something the dog considers unpleasant the moment the dog performs the behavior.
I feel the need to explain negative punishment and negative reinforcement further. As these terms can be confusing (this was where I was stumped for quite a while.)
Negative Punishment Example: You are trying to teach the sit. Your dog keeps pawing at your hand. You remove your attention and the reward for a few moments and then turn around. The dog sits. You reward them.
You punish them by removing something pleasant. In this case a treat or praise.
Negative Reinforcement Example: You are trying to teach the dog to sit. You pinch their ear until they sit. When they sit, you release the pressure on their ear.
You reward them by removing something unpleasant. In this case, an ear pinch.
Let’s tackle Positive Punishment and Reinforcement while we’re on this subject.
Positive Punishment Example: The dog knows how to sit. You ask for the sit. The dog does not sit fast enough. You give a leash correction. They sit.
You added the leash correction as punishment.
Positive Reinforcement Example: The dog knows how to sit. You ask for the sit. The dog does not sit fast enough. You reward the dog with a crappy treat. You wait and ask again. The dog sits faster this time. Your reward with a great treat.
You are adding the better treat and reinforcing the faster sit. You could also do this by not rewarding the slow sit at all and waiting for the faster sit then offering the best reward possible.
Is Positive Dog Obedience Training Right for Me and My Dog?
Some people believe every dog will respond to positive methods. I think this is almost always the case, however, there will be exceptions.
Positive dog training takes time to understand and implement. You, as the handler, need a clear understanding of the concepts before you can use them to train your dog.
This is one reason I start all my sessions with a 45-minute lesson on the terms, the usage, and answer any questions people may have before we start working with the dog.
You should get some books on positive dog training and seek out a positive trainer in your area to help you with things you are having a problem with.
I would answer the above question with this reply…
“I personally believe that almost all dogs can learn using positive methods. If you have a dog with serious behavior problems (like aggression, extreme fear, etc…) then positive methods will take longer to work and will require serious discipline on your part.”
Why Do You Recommend Positive Training Over Other Methods?
Positive training doesn’t have to be confusing and complicated. Once you get the concepts positive training is quite easy to understand and use.
One of the main reasons this method of dog training is so popular and a reason why I recommend it is because it’s very hard to mess up your dog.
For example, if you use a leash correction to stop jumping on guests the dog can easily start thinking it’s people walking toward them that is causing the correction. This can lead to aggression, increased jumping, and fear of people. All of which is bad.
However, if you miss clicking or marking the behavior you want the dog to learn you will avoid all of the above reactions.
First and foremost it takes repeat exposures to the clicker for dogs to make the connection. So if you mess up in the early stages odds are the dog hasn’t learned what the clicker is yet.
Worst case scenario with positive training, you end up marking the wrong behavior.
You can correct this by marking the correct behavior and doing the training process again. It will take more time since you messed up, but you are not causing the dog to fear things or act aggressively in situations.
When people ask me why I recommend and use positive reinforcement over say pinch collars and leash corrections my answer to them is simple.
My answer: What would you rather have. A dog that responds to you because they want to avoid pain or a dog that responds to you because they find it fun and enjoyable?
Positive reinforcement makes dog training for your dog, fun and enjoyable. You will have more fun because your dog will be eager to work to earn their reward.
Other Dog Training Methods
Compulsion. We’ll start with compulsion because it is the first method that was created back in World War I.
Compulsion training is dog training that uses force and pain to teach, modify, and maintain obedience behaviors.
Compulsion uses positive punishment (e.g. leash corrections) and negative reinforcement (e.g. ear pinch until the dog sits) as the two primary concepts of the method.
One example of compulsion training is using an e-collar to train the dog to lie down. The handler would put the e-collar on continuous stimulation and wait for the dog to offer the right behavior. If the dog lies down, the handler would stop the stimulation and the dog would then be praised.
This is negative reinforcement at it’s best (or worst depending on how you see it).
After repeating this until the dog downs on command the handler would then use leash corrections to modify the behavior.
Remember at the beginning when we were talking about positive reinforcement and making the sit faster?
Compulsion handlers would use positive punishment to accomplish this.
For example, now that the dog knows how to avoid the shock and they down on command the handler would give a leash correction for slowdowns. When the dog lies down quickly, the dog would receive praise and a treat.
Why would anyone use compulsion?
They use it because it works. The military, police, and other organizations use an almost 100% compulsion-based system to train their guard and patrol dogs because the results are faster than positive methods.
This leads me to the next method of training…
Traditional Training. I call what people at PetSmart and PetCo and most professional trainers use as “traditional training” because it has become standard operating procedure for 95% of the trainers you will encounter.
This form of training combines positive and compulsion methods to “round out” the program.
In the beginning, the dog learns to use positive reinforcement and negative punishment. They are lured into position using food and then rewarded (positive reinforcement).
If they do not comply in the early stages then you would turn around and remove the treat and attention from the dog (negative punishment).
Moving to the next level (modifying the behavior or proofing it) the dog is asked to do something. If they do not offer the desired behavior (a sit for example) they are giving a leash correction until they sit (positive punishment).
If you go to a PetSmart class or a mainstream trainer you will likely be using this form of training.
The next method of training is…
Purely Positive. Before we go into this method I would like to say that some “purely positive” trainers are not really purely positive. They use the term to make themselves look better or to gather more business. Am I bitter about it? Not really, but unless you train using no punishment or corrections you are not a purely positive trainer.
Purely positive training, as I mentioned a second ago, does not use any form of punishment or corrections.
You use 100% positive reinforcement 100% of the time. No exceptions.
Purely positive is the more extreme cousin to what I call positive dog obedience training. Remember, the method I described and use involves negative punishment (no reward markers like no, and eh, eh and the removal of food, praise or toys) which isn’t purely positive.
I admire pure positive trainers for their patience and gentle nature and if you find that you want to pursue this method of training (or any method mentioned) I would suggest getting involved with a professional who has experience using the techniques.
Positive Dog Obedience Training Conclusion
Training methods are as varied as dog breeds. Some people think purely positive is the only way to go, while others use 100% compulsion. Most use the traditional method (positive/compulsion) and then you have people like me who use 90% positive reinforcement with 10% negative punishment.
What method you use depends a lot on you, your dog’s temperament, age, and abilities.
To start I would recommend using 90% positive reinforcement and 10% negative punishment and work that program until it either proves successful or non-successful.
Whatever method you decide to use find a professional trainer to help you learn the techniques safely and properly and avoid any problems you might have.