Why Positive Reinforcement (+R)

Victoria Stilwell Positively believes it is vitally important for owners to give their dogs the opportunities and the tools they need to live successfully in a human world. A dog that is given consistent guidance from an early age grows up to be a confident dog. Education brings security, security brings confidence, and a confident dog has no need to show anxiety-based behaviors.
Modern behavioral science has proven that forceful handling such as physical punishment, leash yanking, or making a dog submit by rolling it on its back is psychologically damaging for the dog and has potentially dangerous consequences for owners. Instead, the most successful modern training theories suggest that reinforcing good behavior with rewards while using constructive discipline is much more successful. Positive reinforcement (i.e., giving the dog a reward in the form of praise, play, food, toys, etc. when it responds and offers an action or a behavior that you like) has been shown to be the most effective way to train a dog because rewarding good behavior will increase the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. Similarly, the use of constructive discipline (marking bad behavior by using vocal sounds to interrupt the behavior and refocus the dog onto something more positive, ‘time-outs’ or simply ignoring the dog) ensures that the dog learns which behavior is linked to the negative consequences of the discipline and is therefore less likely to repeat the behavior.

The strongest relationships between dogs and humans are based on cooperation and kindness rather than a human dominance/animal submission methodology, which is central to outdated traditional training methods. Positive training helps to establish and maintain a connection that increases trust and therefore creates a stronger bond between dog and owner, because if your dog feels good about you, he will be a happier, more confident and better-behaved dog. Ultimately, positive training results in a dog who follows an owner because it wants to rather than following out of fear, while traditional training uses punitive methods to force a dog to behave, often resulting in a ‘quick fix’ that never truly identifies the root cause of the misbehavior while promoting insecurity and negative behavior.

As you begin the process of modifying your dog’s behavior, BE PATIENT – positive training relies on consistency, repetition and the following general rules:

  • Identify WHY the dog is doing what it is doing. You cannot deal with a behavior unless you know the root cause.
  • Once you know the WHY, then you can ask yourself HOW to treat the behavior. It is vitally important that you understand your dog.
  • Learn to talk and think dog. Good communication serves to increase the bond between dog and owner considerably.
  • Find what motivates your dog to learn and use this while training. Rewards in the form of food, toys, praise or play are powerful, but every dog is different, so find what reward motivates your dog the most. Ignore those that say training your dog using food and/or treats is bribery. For a food motivated dog, using treats in the training process is vital in helping your dog learn. Not only that, food literally changes the way a dog’s brain functions in certain situations and can help rehabilitate a fearful or aggressive dog. Food is a powerful tool and is an essential ingredient when it comes to dealing with many major behavior problems.
  • Be Kind! Never hit, scream at or yank your dog. Don’t combat fear with more fear – recognize your dog’s concerns, then slowly and gently help him learn to overcome them.
  • Go very slowly when dealing with anxiety-related behaviors. The best way to rehabilitate an aggressive dog is to change how he perceives the stimuli that make him anxious. Do this by slowly showing your dog that the thing he fears is no longer scary.

Teaching obedience commands is relatively easy to do, but changing a dog’s negative behaviors and perceptions is a lot harder. Therefore it is important that you enlist the help of a qualified positive reinforcement trainer to help you develop a treatment plan that is designed for your dog’s particular problem. Stay away from trainers that use harsh methods, choke, prong, electric or weighted collars. Remember positive training equals positive results – it might take a little longer and require a bit more time and patience on your part, but the positive changes you’ll see in your dog are worth it.

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April 16, 2014

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As the host of the hit TV show "It's Me or the Dog", Victoria has been able to share her insight and passion for positive, reward-based dog training…

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