Training dogs using positive reinforcement and reward
training has long been recognized as both highly effective for the owner and a positive experience for the dog.
Positive reinforcement training is so important that it is the only method used to train dangerous animals like
lions and tigers for work in circuses and in the movie and television industry (in olden times of course).
Proponents of positive reinforcement swear by the
effectiveness of their techniques, and it is true that most dogs respond well to these training
One reason that positive reinforcement training is so
effective is that is uses rewards to teach the dog what is expected of it. When the dog performs the desired
behaviour, he is provided with a reward, most often in the form of a food treat, but it could be a scratch
behind the ears, a rub under the chin or a pat on the head as well. The important thing is that the dog is
rewarded consistently for doing the right thing.
Reward training has become increasingly popular in recent
years, but chances are some sort of reward training between humans and dogs has been going on for hundreds if
not thousands of years.
When understanding what makes reward training so effective,
some knowledge of the history of humans and dogs is very helpful. The earliest dogs were probably wolf pups that
were tamed and used by early humans for protection from predators, as alarm systems and later for guarding and
It is possible that the wolf pups that made the best
companions were the most easily trained, or it is possible that these early dogs were orphaned or abandoned wolf
pups. Whatever their origin, there is little doubt today that the vast variety of dogs we see today have their
origin in the humble wolf.
Wolf packs, like packs of wild dogs, operate on a strict pack
hierarchy. Since wolf and dog packs hunt as a group, this type of hierarchy, and the cooperation it brings, is
essential to the survival of the species. Every dog in the pack knows his or her place in the pack, and except
in the event of death or injury, the hierarchy, once established, rarely changes.
Every dog, therefore, is hard wired by nature to look to the
pack leader for guidance. The basis of all good dog training, including reward-based training, is for the
handler to set him or herself up as the pack leader. The pack leader is more than just the dominant dog, or the
one who tells all the subordinates what to do. More importantly, the pack leader provides leadership and
protection, and his or her leadership is vital to the success and survival of the pack.
It is important for the dog to see itself as part of a pack,
to recognize the human as the leader of that pack, and to respect his or her authority. Some dogs are much
easier to dominate than others. If you watch a group of puppies playing for a little while, you will quickly
recognize the dominant and submissive personalities.
A dog with a more submissive personality will generally be
easier to train using positive reinforcement, since he or she will not want to challenge the handler for
leadership. Even dominant dogs, however, respond very well to positive reinforcement. There are, in fact, few
dogs that do not respond well to positive reinforcement, also known as reward training.
Positive reinforcement is also the best way to retrain a dog
that has behaviour problems, especially one that has been abused in the past. Getting the respect and trust of
an abused dog can be very difficult, and positive reinforcement is better than any other training method at
creating this important bond.
No matter what type of dog you are working with, chances are
it can be helped with positive reinforcement training methods. Based training methods on respect and trust,
rather than on intimidation and fear, is the best way to get the most from any dog.