Thoughts on positive versus negative reinforcement

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on dog training. I have, however, spent a lot of time researching different training methods and have had experience training many different types of dogs via my involvement in rescue and shelter work.

Let me just put this out there: I am not a fan of Cesar Milan (AKA the Dog Whisperer). This surprises a lot of people, since he has basically become the pop culture icon of dog training. While I do appreciate all he’s done for pit bulls, and I think it’s great he’s inspired an interest in working with behavior problems and not giving up, I simply don’t agree with dominance techniques. Many experts will agree that these methods are horribly outdated, and downright destructive for many types of dogs.

Dominance techniques are based on asserting yourself as a leader over your dog in order to elicit a desired behavior. While this sounds good in theory – in the dog world, true leaders don’t earn their status by force; they earn it via respect from their pack. That’s not to say dominance techniques don’t work – sure, you can sometimes get your dog to behave a certain way via these methods – but when dogs behave out of fear of punishment, it drives a wedge between dog and owner. This method also can also backfire horribly. For example, many aggressive dogs are actually fearful dogs – when it comes to fight or flight, they choose fight. Instilling more fear in dogs like this only perpetuates the problem.

Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, works to strengthen the bond between dog and owner. In the dog world, the leader controls the resources, so by giving positive reinforcement in the form of praise and/or food when your dog does what you want him to do, you’re showing him that you’re in control of the resources and he’ll get what he wants when he behaves how you want. Dogs have an innate desire to please their people (even if they don’t show it sometimes)!

Again, I’m not an expert on the subject. But if you’re seeking an expert’s help for training or behavior modification, ask them whether they use dominance techniques or positive reinforcement, and seek out the latter. You and your dog will be happy you did.

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2 Comments

Filed under Humans, Training/Behavior

2 responses to “Thoughts on positive versus negative reinforcement

  1. I completely agree! It’s scary how many people watch “The Dog Whisperer” and then are alpha rolling their dogs and “biting” them whenever they do something “wrong.” It disgusts me.

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