There are many misconceptions about positive reinforcement training methods. Many people seem to be hung up with the dominance theory. An article I read recently stated that dogs are not trying to achieve world domination. I couldn’t agree more. Dogs are not trying to conquer the world or even your homes. Dogs do what work for them. In many cases, dogs are very effective about training the human they live with. Positive reinforcement methods are successful not only for obedience training, but also for behavior problems such as aggression and fear.
Let’s talk about food rewards. Food is a powerful motivator, which is why we use it. However, praise, toys, and life rewards are also part of positive reinforcement training. If you went to work for two weeks and your boss told you that you did a great job, but did not give you a paycheck, you would be very disappointed. You probably wouldn’t show up for work the next day either. With our dogs, if we do not make their work pay off, they quit too. Food is a great training tool. Remember, it can also be their own food, not just treats. Make them work for it. A reward that motivates a dog to learn is a great training tool because learning not only makes a dog more confident, but able to live a successful life in his home. When a dog sees that there are benefits for a certain behavior, then he is more likely to repeat the behavior. That is not bribery.
Dog training should be fun for you and your dog. That is why you should not train your dog using force and punishment. Make your relationship with your dog built on trust, not on fear. Food is incompatible with fear and is therefore valuable in modifying fearful behavior, stress and anxiety in dogs.
Any reward that is used to motivate your dog to learn has to be of high value until your dog is doing the behavior reliably. This is why when dogs are first learning we give them more treats. Remember, dogs do not speak English. As the dog starts to learn, we phase out the treats or give them intermittently. Treats are like a slot machine, not a soda machine. The promise is that you could win the jack pot, so you keep playing.
There is also a misconception that positive trainers do not use discipline. This could not be farther from the truth. The form of discipline is different than dominance training. Positive trainers do not use alpha rolls (where the dog is forcibly laid on its back and held down until submission), jerks, shocks, hanging, ear pinches, stepping on paws, or any other reprimand that causes pain. Positive discipline uses constructive discipline to help the dog make better choices. These include techniques such as removal, time outs, ignoring behavior or interrupting the behavior with a verbal correction (which is very effective) as well as taking something of value away. Dogs learn as much from constructive discipline as they do from rewards. It is much easier to influence your dog’s behavior without using force, which is why positive reinforcement is a better alternative to the dominance theory.