Reward-based training

by Kirsty Lynas // July 2017

Positivity Over Punishment

Here at Dog School we are big believers in positivity over punishment when it comes to training (this goes for people as well as dogs!).

We could send you in the direction of many scientific papers to explain why this is, but we feel a brief yet convincing summary would be much more useful!

One of the biggest comments we hear is that ‘I don’t believe in bribing my dog to do something.’ Well reward based training isn’t about bribery at all! It’s about making a payment to your dog when they have done something right. Think about it, we wouldn’t find it acceptable to go to work every day, work really hard and not get paid. So why should we expect our dogs to do this?

Another comment we hear a lot is ‘my dog will get fat if I use high value treats all the while.’ Any responsible dog owner should be concerned about the health of their dog so this is an understandable and valid concern. But there a couple of important things to remember that may help you overcome this particular worry. Firstly, a reward doesn’t have to be food! Yes, for most dogs food is the ultimate payment but for some dogs toys, praise and attention can be just as rewarding. Personally, a spa treatment is going to be just as much of a treat as slice of chocolate cake would be. Variation is the spice of life!

When you first start training and when you are training in areas with more distractions you will probably need to use high value food such as chicken, sausage and cheese but at other times lower value treats such as pieces of carrot will probably do the trick. And remember we are only using high value rewards whilst we teach a brand new behaviour. Once your dog is consistently offering a certain behaviour, such as sit, loose leading walking or recall we can start to change up what reward they receive and only use treats every now and then, and those treats can just be their normal kibble. You can also reduce their daily meal amounts slightly to compensate for the treats that you will be using during training.

Another reason for choosing rewards over punishment comes down to how this affects your dog’s motivation. Take a moment to think about the following two scenarios.

You have just started a new job and make an error. Straight the way your boss tells you that this is not acceptable and shouts at you and leaves you to fix the mistake without offering any help.

On the other hand, you are in a new job and this time your boss comes to you to talk about the mistake, tells you not to worry, explains things in a different manner that helps you understand what went wrong and then at the end of the week, buys you a slice of cake because of how well you did in rectifying the mistake.

I think it’s safe to say that most people will be much more motivated to continue working hard and to try and please their boss as much as possible in that second scenario. The same goes for dogs as well. Reward based training gives them a huge motivation to keep wanting to train and learn new things.

Finally let’s have a think about what punishment actually achieves. Yes it may stop an unwanted behaviour from occurring but does it teach your dog what you actually want them to do instead? No! It still leaves your dog wondering what on earth you want from them and therefore they may start to perform other unwanted behaviours instead of what you actually want them to do.

The only thing punishment truly achieves is to have a negative effect of the relationship and bond between you and your dog which will soon lead them to losing trust in you.

So get rid of those doubts, give reward based training a try and see exactly what you and your dog can achieve together!