The Importance of Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training

Posted by Jackie Ly on

woman giving her dog a treat

Positive reinforcement or reward-based training is when you reward your dog–a praise, a treat, or affection– for exhibiting good or desirable actions. The fundamental idea behind positive reinforcement is to shift your attention away from reacting negatively to your dog's bad behaviour and towards the development of positive behaviours.

Positive reinforcement is known to be one, if not the most, effective way to teach your dog good behaviour. And for those who are just getting started in dog training, and those who are looking for a more effective dog training approach, here are reasons why positive reinforcement is important.

The Importance of Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training

It builds your dog’s trust in you

Before your dog starts to listen to you, they first want to have a good relationship with you founded in mutual trust and respect. Using positive reinforcement puts you in a good light, as your dog knows that you won’t force or hurt them, and that you give them treats instead!

Building your relationship on a positive note helps your dog place their trust in you, and in return, they’ll be more likely to listen to you. Positive reinforcement not only helps you in dog training, but also in forming meaningful relationships with your dog.

It builds your dog’s confidence

Positive reinforcement builds your dog’s confidence. Dogs who receive punishment for bad behaviour on a regular basis may lose their self-esteem and may begin to feel down most of the time. This may happen when your dog doesn’t experience positivity with your family.

Positive reinforcement makes them feel good about learning new skills. Your dog will be happier and more energetic to learn, rather than dreading obedience training sessions.

Everyone in the family can do it

Positive reinforcement is a good way to get the whole family involved in dog training! Not everyone can be a strict disciplinarian, but everyone in your household can find it easy to  reinforce and reward your dog's good behaviour! Everyone will feel happy once the behaviour is learned!

This can also demonstrate consistency for your dog, as all family members use the same training style. They can learn faster when everyone’s doing the same rather than with different methods done by each family member.So make sure that you and your family agree to do it while using the same cues and commands.

It is recommended by professionals

Scientific evidence indicates that using punishment in dog training entails risks, which is why several professional groups have come out against it. 

According to one study, when people use positive punishment, dogs react aggressively. When a prong or choke collar was used, 11% of dogs became aggressive; when they were screamed at, 15% became aggressive; and when they were hit or kicked, 43% became aggressive.

People reported that the more they use punishments, the more aggressive and hyperactive their dogs become. Yet what surprises some people the most is that owners who claim to have trained their dog through positive punishment are more likely to report troublesome behaviours.

That’s why professionals recommended positive reinforcement instead.

Dogs Trust believe that positive reinforcement should be the foundation of all training. They say that positive reinforcement training is effective because if you give your dog what they want as soon as they follow your commands, they are much more likely to repeat the behaviour.

American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour says that instead of employing strategies that use fear or pain to punish dogs for undesired behaviours, they promote training methods that let dogs work for things (such as food, play, or affection) that motivate them.

In a field of study that is always evolving, research is increasingly showing how effective positive reinforcement is at changing dog behaviour. Which is further supported in the next section.

It produces better results

According to several studies, owners who teach their dogs using positive reinforcement say that their dogs were less likely to have behaviour problems and behave better than those who use harsh training methods. 

These studies relied on owner's accounts, however another study compared positive reinforcement versus shock collars using an experimental approach. 

Contrary to popular belief, they discovered that shock collars did not result in better-trained dogs during recall training in the presence of animals. In fact, the shock-trained pups displayed signs of stress.

Here are other reasons why positive reinforcement produces better results.

Your dog learns better with rewards

According to one study, dogs who receive positive reinforcement training are more adept at picking up new skills. Solving problems successfully and learning new behaviour makes your dog happy. 

According to research, dogs who work hard to earn a reward are happier than those who are just given one. Researchers believe dogs also experience that ‘Eureka effect’ when they’re given a reward after accomplishing a complicated task.

Researchers also reiterate that the success of a dog-owner training relationship is affected by the dog's motivation and aptitude to learn, and that motivation and aptitude are increased when they anticipate rewards.

Prevents them from ‘freezing up’ out of fear

Your dog may freeze up as a result of fear of when they're punished for bad behaviour. But your dog can avoid that when they are receiving positive reward for good behaviour. 

Freezing up in fear can delay your dog’s development and learning. Because positive behaviour reinforcement only focuses on rewarding your dog for their good behaviour, the tendency to freeze up or experience stage fright is lessened.

Focuses on what they can do

Teaching your dog what to do rather than what not to do just makes sense. If you focus more on punishing their negative behaviour rather than reinforcing good ones, they won’t know what you expect from them.

It’s best to teach them what to do so they can learn it, and focus on motivating them to do it.

It promotes good animal welfare

Dog training also means you have to take into account the welfare of your dog, and studies have shown that rewarding good behaviour supports good animal welfare.

Researchers reiterate that reward-based training is less traumatic or stressful for your dog, which makes it safer for you and your family.

It makes your dog happy to learn

Dog training should be fun for both you and your dog. Dog training should be fun for both you and your dog. Using rewards to teach them makes them happy and more motivated to learn. Your dog will enjoy learning new manners and commands as well. 

Whether the positive reinforcement comes in the form of a treat, a click, and/or vocal praise, your dog will look forward to your training sessions because it'll be fun!

There are many techniques you can do to shape your dog's behaviour, but the best option is one that involves positively rewarding them for doing positive behaviours. Remember that for both you and your dog, training should be fun, rewarding, and a way to deepen your relationship with each other.

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