Lamont County, Fort Saskatchewan, Redwater, Gibbons, Mundare, Tofield, Sherwood Park, North Edmonton

Why Positive Reinforcement? What is it?

What a misunderstood topic. Push-over, Cookie pusher, bribery, and in a way this is true. I use food as a primary reinforcer to increase behaviour I like. That doesn’t mean I let my dogs walk all over me and turn a blind eye to rude behaviour, but I certainly do not hit, jerk, shock, prod, or intimidate my dogs for it either.

My Grandmother used to tell me,

"You can’t force others to change,
you can only change your behaviour and your reaction."

Maxine Kentner

So why do we try to force our dogs to change?

Many people and trainers do not understand the science of learning, it seems complicated and us humans resort to intimidation tactics far to quickly when frustrated. BUT my Grandma was right. Forcing a dog to change does not work. It maybe masks the problem in your presence but in turn it creates more problems, mainly the loss of a dog’s trust in a human. Using force in conjunction with positive reinforcement does not work. In fact it can be more detrimental to the dog! One minute you’re their best friend and the next you’re an intimidating beast, talk about bipolar.

Why Force and Aversives Don’t Work

  • Dogs live in the moment, they cannot corelate being scolded with something that happened hours or even minutes go. The guilty look is actually appeasement behaviour. 
  • A dogs bark or growl can mean many things, it’s a form of communication. Punishing the dog for growling only tells it not to let you know it’s uncomfortable AND now you’re making the dog more uncomfortable. Removing the growl does not remove the bite.
  • Bad attention is still attention. Enough said.
  • Yes dogs are domesticated but they are still animals, breaking trust makes any animal more dangerous.
  • Do you jerk on your dogs leash? Did it work?

True Canine Positive Reinforcement Trainers use 3 things:

  1. Timing, effectively using a marker lets the dog know the exact moment they have done a behaviour correctly, allowing them to correlate their behaviour with a positive experience. (This is where a clicker comes in!)
  2. Understanding of Canine Behaviour. Did you think the guilty look was guilt? Learn more about your dogs language
  3. Understanding of Learning Theory. Notice this isn’t canine learning theory, every organism learns through the same principles. Killer Whales performing were not taught with force. Hyenas at the zoo voluntarily cooperating for veterinary blood draws were not taught using force. The wolves staring in Game of thrones, were not pinned and alpha rolled. They were taught using Classical and Operant Conditioning. More specifically using 2 quadrants, Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment, and no punishment does not mean what you think

How Does All This Work in Training?

Common Scenario:

I come home and my dog goes crazy jumping at me. I don't want my dog to jump.


My solution:

I remove my attention and close the door. Next I open the door I ask my dog for a behaviour other than jumping (sit is the go to) I pay for the sit with treats to start (we'll go into why in future posts). Repeat. It doesn’t take long for my dog to realize sit earns food and keeps my attention. It takes very little time to wean off of the food and my dog sits when greeting me for some love and attention. It sounds simple and it is.


All too often us humans resort to getting upset, scolding our dogs, shoving them into a sit. We tend to over think or not think enough and have a bit of a napoleon complex. Why? What does your dog learn? Did it work?


Now the criticism to my method is I’m ignoring ‘bad’ behaviour. Yes, I was very consciously ignoring my dog because attention is attention so I removed it. Then I was proactive and asked my dog for the behaviour I wanted, and payed for it. 


If you don't like what your dog is doing:

  1. Decide what you want!
  2. Show your dog what you want
  3. Pay for it (and no this doesn’t mean food forever and ever or your dog wont listen)

Need help with the showing part? Well that's where I come in.

(780) 938 - 0130

PO Box 1226

Lamont AB, T0B 2R0

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