Savannah Morning News – November 3, 2017 Allisia Vroom, Training Coordinator
Research on dogs is continually growing and as we learn more about them, we learn that the traditional ways of doing things aren’t always the best. Even with all of the new information we have learned about dog training over the past decade, there is still a resistance to change. Here are five common myths regarding positive reinforcement training.
Positive Reinforcement is based on rewarding a dog for doing something good. Usually this reinforcement comes in the form of a treat, unless something else is more rewarding to the dog like a toy or attention. For many dogs, food is the best way to focus their attention and get them to do what you want. It’s not a permanent crutch; it’s a training tool that you wean them off of over time. Another way to look at it is to ask yourself would you go to work if you didn’t get paid? Most likely not. Then why would you expect your dog to work for free?
In most cases, if your dog does not do what you ask, she/he simply doesn’t understand what you are asking. Your dog might sit beautifully at home when you feed him and ignore you as soon you go outside. This is because dogs don’t generalize as easy as humans. Dogs need to learn how to focus in distracting environments. You must gradually build your dog up to not needing a treat every time they do a behavior. You might practice ‘sit’ in your living room, then practice ‘sit’ in your front yard. You can fade a treat out when they are confident in the house, but may need one when you go in the front yard.
While positive reinforcement isn’t based on punishment that does not mean your dog can do whatever he likes. Part of having a well behaved dog is setting rules and boundaries. The better behaved your dog is, the more freedom they earn. Positive Reinforcement is about teaching your dog the behavior you want them to do and then rewarding for it enough that they repeat only the good behaviors.
The “Dominance” or “Alpha Theory” is the biggest myth of all. Research has proven it is not applicable to domestic dogs. Your dog is pushing out the door because they want to be outside or they jump in the bed with you because they want to be close to you. You don’t want to punish those behaviors, you want to manage them to teach them a better behavior.
These fields tend to be dominated by traditional trainers, but any dog can be trained with positive reinforcement. The military and police are beginning to use more positive based methods when training with their dogs. In Denver, a club is teaching gun dog training using positive methods. In 2016 a Belgian Shepherd named Onez earned her IPO I title and took first place at nationals being trained with only positive methods.
If you are interested in training your dog, check out the Dog Training Program at the Humane Society for Greater Savannah. You can visit our website for more information at www.humanesocietysav.org/training-classes or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.