Positive Training Produces Playful Pups
| December 14th, 2011

The benefits of positive dog training

Reward vs. PunishmentThere is a massive amount of scientific evidence supporting positive reinforcement as the most effective dog training method. These studies typically focus on the main goal of training a dog – obtaining the desired behavior. But a new study from the University of Bristol examines other, equally important collateral benefits of positive training.

What is Positive Training?

Positive reinforcement training sounds incredibly simple – and it is! You reward your dog when he performs a behavior that you desire. This is the only form of training we use at the Zoom Room; we do so for a variety of reasons: it’s something that every member of the family can do; it can be performed anytime, anywhere; it produces the best and most consistent results; it encourages dogs to be playful, friendly and curious; it is effective with an enormous range of dogs; it is the most humane; it is fun; and it is the single most effective method as supported by countless research studies.

What is Compulsion Training?

Compulsion training goes by various names and includes several distinct methods. It is also known as coercion or punishment. It is mainly practiced by punishing a dog when he does not perform a desired behavior; or by applying punishment and then only relieving the dog of the punishment when he finally obeys. Shock collars or shake cans are two of the most commonly used forms of compulsion training. Compulsion focuses on the idea of dominance, which has been consistently demonstrated to be inferior to positive training, and which also can severely backfire when used on a dog who already has some underlying fear-based issues.

Reward vs. Compulsion

Without getting into the whole breadth of scientific research, here are just a few of the more recent studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of positive training:

  • Working dogs trained with compulsion have lower performance and are also at risk for stress-induced health concerns1.
  • Compulsive-based training is less successful at achieving behavioral goals and puts dogs at risk with increased stress and anxiety2, 3, 4, 5.
  • Punishment-induced training can have a wide range of adverse affects, which is why it is not recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior6.
  • Dogs trained with compulsion suppress other behaviors and develop aversive associations with their handlers, thus avoiding them7.

New Research on Positive Training

A wonderful new study from the University of Bristol8 reveals additional benefits of positive training. They didn’t simply look at how well a dog performed a given task when he was trained with positive reinforcement vs. punishment. They looked at a broader range of the dog’s behavior and personality. Here’s what they found:

  • Dogs trained with punishment were less likely to interact with strangers.
  • Dogs trained with punishment tended to be less playful.
  • Dogs trained with positive rewards performed better in a novel training task – in other words, they were true learners, able to adapt, instead of merely having been forced to rehearse the same exact behavior on cue, at the expense of subsequent training.

The conclusion is pretty clear. We want our pets to be naturally curious, playful, and friendly with strangers. This new study confirms what we see every day at the Zoom Room. Happy dogs, happy owners, together engaged in joyous learning.

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1 Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J.M., Diederich, C., 2008. Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team’s performances. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 113, 110–122.
2 Ben-Michael, J., Korziliust, P.L., Felling, J.A., Vossen, M.H., 2000. Disciplining behavior of dog owners in problematic situations: the factorial structure. Antrozoos 13, 104–112.
3 Clark, G.I., Boyer, W.N., 1993. The effects of dog obedience training and behavioural counseling upon the human–canine relationship. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 37, 147–159.
4 Schilder, M.B.H., Van Der Borg, J.A.M., 2004. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 85, 319–334.
5 Tilling, R.H., 2006. Reward is suitable to achieve an obedient dog. Thesis, The Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Aas, Norway.
6 American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), 2007. AVSAB Position Statement: The Use of Punishment for Behav- ior Modification in Animals
7 Sidman, M., 1989. Coercion and its Fallout. Author’s Cooperative Publishers, Furton, California.
8 Rooney, Nicola Jane, Cowan, Sarah. Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 132, Issues 3-4, July 2011, Pages 169-177.


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