It is interesting to me as a trainer and dog lover that we are so obsessed as a society with our food being cruelty-free, and we are outraged at the treatment of animals in certain circus, zoo or farm environments, but when it comes to dog training, people are so quick to gravitate toward shock, prong or choke chain collar methods. The reality is that no matter how these tools and practices are marketed, they are meant, in order to be effective, to cause pain. The dog does not want to be in pain, so he tries to avoid the behavior that caused it, oftentimes shutting down completely because he does not understand what is bringing on the discomfort.
In order to combat these outdated approaches to training, I have come up with a list of the top 5 reasons reward-based training is always the way to go, no matter the age, breed or background of the dog.
1. Anyone in the family can be a part of the training process. In my classes and private settings, I have children as young as 5 years old teaching their dogs to sit and walk politely on leash. I have elderly clients nearly overpowered by their unruly puppies create the kind of focused bond that leads to a gentle and well-behaved dog in only a few weeks. With positive reinforcement (rewards for good behavior) and negative punishment (the removal of rewards when undesired behaviors occur), everyone is a potential trainer, not just the person holding the remote control or the strength to jerk the dog by the collar forcefully.
2. Positive reinforcement training is mental and physical enrichment for the dog. It gives them something to do—a puzzle as they use their brains to figure out how to get the good stuff, whether that is food, a toy, or access to the backyard. It’s fun to watch the wheels turning in their brains as they solve the equation that come when called means cookies!
3. There is no special equipment required and studies show that dogs trained this way have better results. Once your dog learns what to do and how to do it, he can perform these behaviors whether he has a collar on or not!
4. Training with rewards creates a strong bond between dogs and humans while teaching the dog to be calm, friendly and focused. We are more often showing the dog what to do rather than just correcting what he is not to do all of the time. Fearful or timid dogs learn to trust you along the way. It is an excellent method to learn more about your dog: his body language, his play and treat preferences…basically, while your dog is learning to understand you, you are learning to “speak dog” as well.
5. It is what professional organizations officially endorse. This includes the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, the Pet Professionals Guild, and the Humane Society of the United States.