Monday, April 24, 2017

Reasons to Use Reward Based Training

Positive reinforcement is recommended by professional organizations

Many professional organizations have spoken out against the use of punishment in dog training because the scientific evidence shows that it carries risks.

For example, Dogs Trust recommend the use of rewards in dog training. “In order to be effective and to gain the best results, all training should be based around positive rewards. Positive reward training works because if you reward your dog with something he wants as soon as he does what you ask, he is far more likely to do it again.”

In their advice on finding a dog trainer, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour says “AVSAB endorses training methods which allow animals to work for things (e.g., food, play, affection) that motivate them rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors. Look for a trainer who uses primarily or only reward-based training with treats, toys, and play. Avoid any trainer who advocates methods of physical force that can harm your pet such as hanging dogs by their collars or hitting them with their hands, feet, or leashes."

Some organizations (such as the Pet Professional Guild and the APDT (UK)) and some dog training schools (such as the Academy for Dog TrainersKaren Pryor Academy and the Victoria Stilwell Academy) have a code of practice that requires their members to use kind, humane methods instead of aversive techniques.

If you are looking for a dog trainer, whether for puppy class or behaviour problems, see my article on how to choose a dog trainer.

People report better results with positive reinforcement

Several studies have found that people who use positive reinforcement to train their dogs report a better-behaved dog than those who use aversive techniques.

In a study by Blackwell et al (2008), the dogs of people who used only positive reinforcement training were less likely to have behaviour problems. They suggested this could be because dogs don’t associate punishment with their behaviour, but instead with the owner or the context, and hence may become fearful and anxious.

Another study (Hiby et al 2004) found if dog owners used punishment (whether or not they also used rewards) their dogs were more likely to have problem behaviours. People who only used reward-based methods reported more obedient dogs

These results apply to dogs of all sizes. In a study that compared small and large dogs (Arhant et al 2010), those whose owners used more punishment were reported to have more problems of aggression and excitability whatever their size. However this was most pronounced for little dogs (less than 20kg).

Of particular concern is the finding that people who use confrontational methods (such as prong, choke and shock collars or growling at the dog) sometimes report an aggressive response (Herron, Shofer and Reisner 2009). This was never reported in response to using rewards.

These studies relied on owner reports, but another study used an experimental design to compare positive reinforcement to shock collars. They looked at teaching recall in the presence of livestock and found that, contrary to popular belief, the shock collars did not lead to better trained dogs (Cooper et al 2014). And in fact, the dogs trained with shock showed signs of stress, which brings us to the next point. Click here to read the entire article.

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