What does it mean when a dog trainer says that they use “positive reinforcement”? Usually it means that the trainer provides something that a dog likes when they perform a “good” behaviour, so that the dog will perform the behaviour again. Most dog trainers use at least some positive reinforcement in training dogs.
However, if a trainer says that they use positive reinforcement, that is not the whole story. An important question to ask any trainer is “what will you do if my dog does something wrong, or does a “bad” behaviour (such as barking, growling, lunging or biting)? If a trainer gives a vague answer, or says they will use aversives such as leash corrections, physical corrections, or training tools such as prong collars, choke chains or electric collars, you do not have to let them. Behaviour problems are workable and solvable without hurting or scaring your dog.
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour Position Statement on the use of punishment for behaviour modification in animals.
There are some myths about trainers who identify as “positive reinforcement” (also can be known as R+ or Force-Free).
- R+ dogs have no rules and do whatever they want.
- False! Teaching dogs rules and consistency is an important part of living with them. You can reward your dog from doing the right thing and teaching them what you don’t like without hurting or scaring them.
- R+ dogs are never told “no”.
- Partly false. It is easier and clearer to your dog to tell them what *to* do, rather than just telling them “no”. So if your dog likes to jump on people, teach them to sit, or bring you a toy, or keep his feet on the ground, rather than just saying “no”, which he may not understand.
- R+ dogs have no consequences for their actions.
- False. It is impossible to use *only* positive reinforcement when interacting with other animals. A trainer can easily implement consequences for unwanted behaviour to teach a dog that certain behaviours do not get them what they want. Examples of non-scary or painful consequences include (temporary) loss of freedom, loss of a toy, loss of attention or loss of a potential treat!
Training humanely allows you to create a dog that is pleasant to live with, and preserves the trust and relationship that you and your dog share.