I think that a good way to introduce myself would be to explain what reward based training is, and why I use these positive methods when working with dogs and their owners.
With so much information out ‘there’ readily available on the internet it can be difficult to know whose advice we should follow, especially when some people are given their own TV show… If they have a show they must be good, right? Wrong!!
So, without going into too much detail, here is the science bit….
The idea of Dominance Theory came about when Swiss animal behaviourist Rudolph Schenkel carried out captive studies on wolves in Zoos during the 1930’s and 1940's (P. Miller, 2011, 2018). The wolves were placed in artificial packs, by where leadership came about through aggression (Dominance).
However as scientific methods of studying animals has progressed, and wild studies of wolves were able to take place, it is now know that wolves live in a family pack, where leadership is through respect. The parents guide the activities of the group and work on a division of labour system (L.D. Mech, 1999).
When dominance theory was debunked it meant that the way we trained our dogs needed to change too. No longer do we think that dogs are trying to dominate us when they misbehave. They rush through the door or pull on the lead because they are excited to be going somewhere. They jump on the sofa or bed because it is comfortable and they want to be close to their person. Dogs know they aren’t people!
With these things in mind it is time to remove aversive methods of training, such as e-collars, sprays and aggression, from our toolbox. Further scientific studies have shown that using fear to train an animal is not the best way. These methods can actually cause more harm than good (Ziv, 2017).
So what is ‘reward based training’?
Put simply, it is training our dogs by rewarding good behaviour. This can be with treats, toys, or cues such as ‘good’. The more you reward the good behaviour the more you will see the behaviour being repeated.
By rewarding the dog, with something he views as positive, we are causing a chemical change in his brain, a bit like when we reward ourselves with chocolate! Dopamine is released into the brain, making the experience a positive one. A dog will quickly learn that it is a good thing to do as they are asked.
But isn’t this just bribery? It is a fine line, but it's all about when you produce the reward to your dog. Once you are past the initial shaping stage, (where you can use food as a lure) and the dog has learnt the cue, a reward should only be made available to your dog once they have done as asked.
Doesn’t that sound so much better than using fear to shape behaviour?
I am committed to using reward and science based methods of training only. I believe that we should take the time to understand why our dogs are expressing themselves in ways we may not like. Then work hard to educate them in preferred behaviours, for example good social manners, or to help them feel safe and secure enough to not want to exhibit more severe behaviours such as fear and aggression.
Exerting “Dominace” Over Your Dog Is The Wrong Way To Build A Good Relationship. P. Miller. Whole Dog Journal, 2011, 2018.
Alpha Status, Dominance, And Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. L.D. Mech. Canadian Journal of Zoologu, 1999, 77(8): 1196-1203
The Effects Of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – A Review. G. Ziv. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research, 2017, 19: 50-60
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