Why use positive reinforcement?
Most modern day dog trainers use ‘positive reinforcement’ when working with dogs. The premise of this is that the dog receives something rewarding when they do a good thing (usually a behaviour that their owner finds desirable) meaning that they are more likely to repeat it.
However, positive reinforcement is just one part of what are called the four ‘quadrants of dog training’…
Here is an example of how each of these can be applied to dog training:
Positive reinforcement: the dog sits on command, and is given a tasty treat (adding a good thing)
Negative reinforcement: the dog stops pulling on the lead, and pressure from the collar is released (removing a bad thing)
Positive punishment: the dog pulls on the lead, and is shouted at as a result (adding a bad thing)
Negative punishment: the dog jumps on its owner, and the owner turns and walks away (removing a good thing)
Positive punishment can appear to produce results much faster than positive reinforcement, but this is because it works mainly on fear. Even if both methods will produce the desired results, there is one that is clearly more ethically sound and enjoyable for all parties than the other.
It is worth noting that even if positive reinforcement is the sole method used during training, there are aspects of dog’s lives that will inevitably involve other areas of the quadrants. This isn’t something that can necessarily be helped and is just part of their life, but in a situation in which the dog and human are working together, positive reinforcement is the most desirable way forward for the dog.
Positive reinforcement is all about rewarding the dog for doing something good, and this approach to training produces dogs that want to work with their owners and that are engaged and enthusiastic about their training. Dogs are highly intelligent, sentient creatures – their mental abilities have been scientifically proven to be like those of a two-year-old child – and a kind, compassionate method of training will go a long way to building a trusting, close relationship with humans.