Positive Reinforcement Training

What is Positive Reinforcement Training all about?

Puppy Being Trained

Positive Reinforcement (or Reward Based) Training is all about reinforcing (or rewarding) desirable behaviour. This style of training is scientifically proven and based on sound learning theory principles of operant conditioning. The focus is on setting your dog up for success and teaching them what behaviour is desirable, rather than waiting for (or even encouraging) them to perform undesirable behaviour and punishing (or “correcting”) them for it.

Why would I choose to use Positive Reinforcement based techniques over punishment/correction techniques?

Using Positive Reinforcement techniques when training with your dog helps with the following:

Fact or fiction……?

‘I need to dominate my dog in order to get it to obey me’

FICTION! “Dominance Theory” is an outdated concept and actions like pinning dogs to the ground, performing alpha rollovers or scruff shakes to establish “dominance” can be highly dangerous and anxiety inducing for dogs. The Australian Veterinary Association has released a fact sheet debunking dominance in dogs which you can read here

‘A dog is just like a wolf and therefore we must treat them as such.’

FICTION! Dogs and wolves, while both belonging to the species “Canis lupis”, are infact quite different. Dogs belong to a sub species known as “Canis lupis familiaris”, differentiating them from wolves entirely. The domestication process over thousands of years has changed the way that dogs look, think and act, and while there are many similarities between dogs and wolves, treating them as such is inaccurate.

‘My dog can tell right from wrong. If he gets it wrong he should be punished for it’

Puppy Playing

FICTION! Dogs can not tell right from wrong. That’s a human ability. Dogs are opportunistic and will do what works for them. Therefore, if they do not have the ability to judge right from wrong, punishing them for getting it “wrong” only creates confusion and interferes with the learning process.

‘My dog looks guilty when he knows he’s done something wrong’

FICTION! Ah, yes. The guilty look. This is actually called an appeasing gesture and is meant to make you soften. It works, right? It works with other dogs too and is used very effectively to diffuse situations and arousal levels.

‘My dog is doing XYZ and constantly trying to dominate me – he must be a dominant dog’

FICTION! Labelling a dog as “dominant” is inaccurate and doesn’t identify specific behaviours actually being exhibited. Dominance is something that is fluid and usually relates to resources. It is not a behavioural trait. Many dogs are pushy (and some are down right bossy). Many try to control situations because of anxiety. That does not make them “dominant”.

‘Dogs communicate mostly via body language’

FACT! This one is true. Dogs use their body language to communicate to each other (and to us) how they are feeling at any given moment. They are also masters at reading body language (including yours!). When you walk into a room and find something of value destroyed you look at your dog and he looks guilty, right? Think about what you’ve done just before you’ve looked at your dog – you saw something destroyed and your pupils will have dilated. You would have opened your eyes wide and taken in a deep breath (because you’re about to yell). You would have clenched your jaw and your fist. All in the space of a second. Your dog has read that and immediately gone into his “appeasing gesture” (the one we interpret as ‘guilt’) before you’ve even said a word. Amazing creatures, aren’t they?