Using Reinforcement When Training Your Dog

obedience dog

Adding a dog to your home can be exciting for any family. However, these pets are also a big responsibility, as canine companions require a great deal of time and attention, particularly when it comes to training. Over the years, thousands of pet owners have struggled with the responsibility of training their dog. However, research has found that there are certain approaches to behavioral training that are more effective than others. One of the most utilized and proven solutions are to use positive reinforcement during training.

In the best-selling book on animal training, “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” the details of positive reinforcement during training are highlighted for pet owners. The book’s author, Karen Pryor, a former trainer at Sea World and celebrated animal trainer, has spent years researching the art of positive reinforcement with animal behavior. Fortunately for pet owners, her research has shown that it is possible to mold the behaviors of your pet without punishment or yelling.

When attempting to teach a dog to do a trick, it is important to use positive reinforcement such as attention or treats, whenever the dog performs the right behavior. For example, if an owner is teaching their dog to sit, they shouldn’t scold the dog when it doesn’t sit, but instead reward the dog when it does. Scolding, or negative reinforcement, is often shown to cause resentment with pets, and it is usually not suggested when it comes to teaching tricks and behaviors.

In her book, Pryor is an outward supporter of positive reinforcement. However, in her teachings, she also touches on the use of negative reinforcement. Pryor details that while it usually isn’t the right approach during training, there are instances where negative reinforcement can work and where it is preferable to positive training approaches. This includes situations where pet owners are dealing with deliberate misbehavior, when the pet is willfully acting in a manner they know they shouldn’t be acting in.

Pet owners must be confident that their dog is doing something other than what they are supposed to be doing, on purpose, before they decide to use negative reinforcement. There are some instances when pets do know what they should be doing but instead do the opposite. Some dogs may do this just to see what will happen or what response they will receive from their owner. In these situations, when pet owners correct the behavior with a disapproving frown or a scolding, then the message to the pet is clear– that they should not repeat this behavior again. This will also give the pet useful information regarding what their borders and limits are.

An example that Pryor highlights in her work, in terms of using negative reinforcement, comes with teaching dogs to stay off of the furniture. This can be a difficult task for any pet owner to master, but the acclaimed behaviorist has detailed how this can be accomplished with negative reinforcement. By placing mouse traps on the sofa, the dog will be given a negative response to their attempt to jump on the furniture. The single instance of being snapped by the mouse trap should be enough, for most dogs, to learn that jumping on the sofa will elicit a negative response. Ultimately, for pet owners, knowing when to use negative reinforcement, such as in the aforementioned example, and when to use positive reinforcement, such as giving treats when teaching commands, can lead to significant success with pet training.

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