Do Companies Teach Reward Based Dog Training to People?

Because I am a concert pianist, the delightful video above has arrived in my inbox dozens of times. No matter how many times I watch it, it always brings a smile to my face. It is part of the  Volkswagen “Fun Theory,” based on the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. I chuckled when I read those words and watched a few more of the winning videos in their contest, as I realized that is what positive reinforcement dog training is all about.

In summary, instead of correcting dogs for the behavior you don’t want, you reward them for behavior you do want. What naturally happens when you reward the behaviors you want? You get more behaviors you want, of the dog’s own free will, and consequently it’s a lot more fun for both canine and their human counterpart.

But, how does that relate to Volkswagen and their Fun Theory? Well, it’s exactly the same thing, but applied to people. Before the stairs were turned into a musical keyboard, a hidden camera revealed that almost everyone took the escalator. But, when the musical keyboard was installed, people were curious and it became so much more fun to take the stairs than the escalator. They were benefiting from the exercise without even realizing it, because they were just having fun making music while climbing stairs. Most adults are aware that it’s better for their health to take the stairs instead of the elevator, but previously the reward for taking the stairs just wasn’t very enticing without a fun factor. With the musical addition, they are rewarded with music making and fun!


The video above, that won first place in the Volkswagen Fun Theory contest, demonstrates my point even clearer. Kevin Richardson won 1st place with The Speed Camera Lottery video. He knows that the number of people speeding isn’t reduced by giving more speeding tickets. In dog training language that would be the equivalent of expecting a dog’s unwanted behaviors to decrease by punishing those behaviors. It may work in the short term, but rarely in the long haul and often escalates into additional undesired behaviors.

Similarly, when people receive a speeding ticket, they are more apt to pay attention to their speedometers short term, but it’s not sustainable behavior. However, when they are rewarded for their good behavior by being entered in a lottery for keeping the speed limit, they are more likely to continue driving under the speed limit, by their own free choice. And they have fun in the process, because they are being rewarded for their good driving behavior. Where do their lottery winnings come from? The people who were caught speeding! Brilliant!

Can you think of any areas in your life where you’ve been more apt to change a behavior because you were rewarded for your desired behavior rather than corrected for your unwanted behavior? Thanks for leaving your reply below.

As co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear, I am offering my Positively readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.

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Positively Expert: Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. By combining her passion for music with her love of dogs, she co-created Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to relieve anxiety issues in dogs.


3 thoughts on “Do Companies Teach Reward Based Dog Training to People?

  1. Jerry Lake

    Congratulations on your new posting.
    Sharing the advantages of positive behavior rewarding and advocating for the humane treatment of animals is a grand thing. I sincerely hope that the techniques continue to evolve and are incorporated throughout all animal training.

  2. Stephanie

    As a child, my mom had a system of stamps. Whenever I behaved well, I was given a stamp. I could then trade in ten stamps for a treat such as a donut. As you'd expect, I liked that system a whole lot better than her ex husband's checkmark system, which was a negative reinforcement system (I got checkmarks when I was bad.)

  3. Oliver Stieber

    It's called operant conditioning:
    "Operant conditioning actually encapsulates both reward and aversive training. In its simplest form, operant conditioning says that to modify a dog’s behavior, we can either add or take away a reward stimulus (positive reinforcement, negative punishment); or we can add or take away an aversive stimulus (positive punishment, negative reinforcement)."

    SuperNanny (who's on TV working with badly behaving children) says:

    Parenting Advice: Discipline
    How Tos

    Thursday 14 May 2009

    This section of the online booklet, Little Darlings, concerns discipline.

    It's easy to pick up on bad behaviour, especially if there's a lot of it, and miss the good. Bad idea! It's a basic law of psychology that rewarding behaviour encourages more of the same. And as far as kids are concerned even a negative reward like a ticking off is still attention. So if you want your children to behave well, reward what they are doing right and try to turn a blind eye as much as possible to what they are doing wrong.

    That's not to say you should totally ignore bad behaviour (you'll find some ideas on how to deal with it below), just don't reinforce it by trying to pacify or cajole them or pandering to their wishes.


    Praise – aka positive feedback – works 100% better than criticism or carping if you want kids to co-operate. Get into the habit of praising your child throughout the day by showing interest, approval or enthusiasm, for all the things they do well.

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