If Your Dog Could Talk: Reward vs Punishment Dog Training

If Your Dog Could Talk, What Would She Tell You? Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

There's a raging controversy in the field of dog training centered around dog training collars and methods--Reinforcement vs Correction and Treats vs No Treats. What's a pet parent to do? If your dog could talk, your dog would surely ask you to listen to the experts in animal behavior. As it turns out, it’s scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog.

In a consensus article, Good Trainers: How to Identity One, the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) states quite clearly; shock, prong, and choke collars should be avoided “because they increase fear and anxiety.” It specifically suggests, “no pop and jerk”. You can Google it to read the full article. These esteemed veterinarians-- experts in behavior-- outline the behavioral and psychological drawbacks of punitive methods and equipment: “There are many pitfalls of punishment: it ruins relationships, inhibits desirable learning, doesn’t tell the pet what to do, and increases aggression and arousal.” They recommend, “bite-sized treats, harnesses and praise” and name these as superior training tools.

Scores of animal behavior experts in the scientific community and humane organizations have spoken out on the Reward vs Punishment debate. Behaviorists from The American Humane Association to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists concur that using intimidation and pain-based methods to prevent or manage behavior can actually WORSEN existing behavior.

So, why is punishment-oriented training so widespread and popular? Well, there’s a charismatic TV trainer whose sensation-driven show warns viewers, “Don’t try this at home”. Additionally, shock, prong and choke collars are marketed in every big box store assuring buyers that they’re safe, acceptable and “won’t hurt your dog.” The language of “stimulation” and “tickle” can mislead innocent pet parents. Shock collar training is still legal in the US and there’s a great deal of money to be made. It works in the moment, but doesn't create lasting change or address the underlying problems.

Shock collars were recently banned for dog training in Wales and are illegal in Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and many parts of Australia. States, such as Connecticut, have banned their use by private trainers and severely restricted their use by facilities.

If you think of your pet as member of your family, think of your dog as "a two-year old for life." That's the truth of it. Reward-based learning is what we ought to use with our children and with our companion animals as well, if we want relationships built on trust and love rather than on dominance and fear.

Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Pet Magazine, San Diego.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


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