What Is Positive Training?

There has been much discussion about which dog training methods are the most appropriate for our dogs. We think that a quick overview may help clarify the issue.

Traditional dog training has evolved from military dog training used in World War I and II. Through the 1980’s, punishment-oriented training using choke chain collars was typical. Subsequently, modern learning theory has been applied to dog training, and progressive trainers use non-aversive techniques, such as positive reinforcement with treats, praise, and play as their primary tools.

Because dogs are so easily trained, these approaches are overwhelmingly more effective as well as less stressful for both owner and dog than punishment-based training.

Recently, some high profile celebrity trainers and well-marketed training franchises have reversed this trend toward humane training. Training dogs by scaring or hurting them through physical intimidation using choke, prong, or electric shock collars, “alpha” rolls, muzzle grabs, or throwing things (chains, water balloons) at dogs can slow training, damage the human/dog relationship, and contribute to the development of aggression as self-defense for the dog.

The Humane Society of the US, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers all promote positive dog training as the most effective and humane way to train dogs.

  • Positive training builds a trusting relationship between a dog and his person. Positively trained dogs enjoy training, rather than complying out of fear.
  • Instead of punishing a dog, showing dominance, or suppressing a behavior, positive training rewards the dog for learning. Positive trainers teach alternatives to unwanted behaviors, so the dog knows what you want him to do.
  • Positive trainers look for the root of a behavior problem; they aren’t simply punishing a symptom. For example, if your dog barks at other dogs because he’s afraid and wants to keep them away, you can stop the barking with a choke, prong, or electronic collar, but you haven’t helped him get over his fear. Not only is this unfair, it can also develop or increase aggression and anxiety or can cause a dog to shut down.
  • Positive training includes management methods that permit dog parents to set their dogs up for success – for example, no-pull harnesses to help with polite leash walking, baby gates to separate dogs from visiting children, and interactive toys to help occupy and provide mental stimulation for dogs.
  • Positive training is based on research into how dogs and other animals learn. Zoos and aquariums use positive training too!

“Based on current scientific evidence, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems. Aversive training methods have a damaging effect on both animal welfare and the human-animal bond.”
– American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Humane Dog Training position statement.  See the full statement here

Don’t forget to come back to watch the video below on clicker training and the positive dog training slideshow in the sidebar.

At Your Dog’s Friend, we practice positive, force-free training methods. Check out our available classes!