Myths and Truths about Positive Based Training Methods

I wanted to write a quick blog about some myths about positive dog training methods. We hear these myths a lot from people who have been given a perspective from someone who does not understand the depth and scope of positive training methods.

Myth #1 : Positive based training methods will not work on my high energy dog.

Truth: Yes, it will. We love high energy dogs! They make us look really good, because positive methods use that energy and direct it to amazing things. We call these dogs “enthusiastic” and we find they really enjoy the training process when it is designed to work with the energy, not suppress it.

Myth #2 : Positive based methods don’t stop dogs from doing bad things like chewing, digging, or jumping.

Truth: Using positive training does not mean permissive, we don’t want a dog destroying your home or jumping on your guests anymore then you do. Positive training methods teach the dog what you want them to do, we do not focus on the bad things, but reward the good behaviors. Science has proven that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that will continue. In positive training, we create environments that support correct behaviors and then praise and encourage those behaviors so they continue. At the same time we make it less likely the dog will return to undesirable behaviors in the process, successful management and reinforcement will correct poor manners and bad habits.

Myth #3 : Without a balance in methods that include punishment, a dog will not understand what you expect.

Truth : Punishment comes in many forms and does not have to include traditional leash corrections, shock collars or prong collars. We have a variety of methods that focus on reinforcement but also include a type of punishment. Withholding of a reward is a punishment, if we are waiting for the dog to give the correct “answer” to a cue. This is referred to as Negative Punishment, it can also be withholding a toy, or praise. This is a very impactful method that will not harm the dog, but also lets us know if the dog needs more training in a specific area. If a dog is not understanding the cue we are giving, we can ask ourselves “why?”, and help that dog in other ways to get the right answer, either through environmental management, or assessing the level of distractions and adjust accordingly.

Myth #4 : Dogs trained with Positive based methods will not be reliable.

Truth : Science has proven that methods that encourage correct behavior through positive reinforcement have more impact then methods that use pain or fear. Any subject that is encouraged to continue a behavior with praise and reward will continue that behavior, and remember the value of that behavior. We can look to nature and see this in many animals. Migratory animals will fly, or walk hundreds if not thousands of miles to reach a favorite area for foraging, breeding and water. These are all referred to as “Primary Reinforcers” and the knowledge of these reinforcers are shared over and over from parent to offspring year after year. Positive training methods build on the natural desire of your dog to seek these primary reinforcers then build on that to create a positive learning environment. You dog does not need to experience pain, or fear to learn a valuable lesson.

Myths like these are common and easily debunked when we take the time to understand how dogs learn and what motivates them. Feel free to offer more myths that you have heard and we will provide a truth.

~Natalie Hawkins CPDT-KA

Natalie Hawkins