At the forefront of this discussion, let me point out that we are certainly not against using positive reinforcement dog training methods. We have trained many dogs utilizing this method and it is one of my personal favorites. Due to increasing ignorance and myths among the pet-owning public, and even some pet training “professionals”, and at the risk of being misunderstood, we feel the need to present another side of the subject.
One of the misconceptions out there in the dog training world is that positive reinforcement (also called +R) is the only, or at least the best, method in training. Best for what?
Positive reinforcement, the method of training which rewards the dog for its behavior to increase the likelihood of that behavior, is a powerful and motivational option. Many dogs respond well to it. It boasts the absence of corrections, is good for many fearful dogs, and keeps training fun and interesting, at least for a while.
Not all dogs will perform well using only +R. Some dogs only respond until distractions come along and then their instincts overpower the reward used (however valuable it is in YOUR estimation) and undesirable behavior is again resorted to. For example: a cat running across the sidewalk will be a more powerful stimulus than a treat in your hand or the sound of a clicker.
What some trainers do not concede is that some dogs do not respond well to positive reinforcement, particularly those who are mentally slow or those who must overcome very powerful urges – such as a Police dog or protection dog, or even hyper dogs. Few working dogs can be reliably trained with only positive reinforcement. Corrections must be inserted to proof the dog. Those working dogs who can be trained using only +R, are carefully chosen from very definite bloodlines – which most people do not know what to look for and/or do not have the money to spend on them.
+R is marketed by some trainers (particularly national pet store chains, but not limited to these) as the only humane method of training. In other words, +R is employed as a money-making scheme. A positive-only method sounds great and it’s an easy sell (pardon the pun) to the general public. Truth is, many of these trainers are frustrated by corporate mandates of only using +R. Some of these trainers know that other methods are needed to advance some dogs’ training, but cannot use or suggest other methods or they will be fired (this has been proven to be the case, unfortunately). I personally have satisfactorily trained many “drop-outs” from these type of courses – so I guess I should just button up and enjoy the financial fall-out from +R-only trainers 🙂
Many trainers are simply ignorant of other methods. They probably haven’t been to a proficient dog trainer school (or at best, they have signed up for an online course) and have not learned of properly employing other effective methods. Ignorance is bliss, they say; but it’s the dogs that suffer.
We are of the opinion that +R has some very solid advantages, if utilized by someone who knows what they’re doing and has good timing. At the same time, a trainer that only utilizes +R will find himself failing to fully train many types of dogs and leaving a trail of dissatisfied customers.
Trainers who desire to have a well-equipped training toolbox with a wide array of options available to train a large variety of breeds, bloodlines, and temperaments may want to consider our Dog Trainer College. Dog owners who want to have their canine friend trained by knowledgeable, humane, passionate, and competent trainers are encouraged to explore our training options at Conifer Canine.