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Ivan Balabanov has rightly said, “Dog training is a never-ending process of evolving.” There is no one way to train a dog, but there are several right ways. The science of dog training methods has largely evolved over the years.
Major Television personalities and behaviorists may have set a tone for dominance-based dog training, to start with, but this tone has been repeatedly altered over the years by educated and qualified behaviorists.
Let’s take a look at the various types of dog training methods. Knowing the available methods can help when learning how to train a husky.
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The 4 Types Of Dog Training Methods
While there are innumerable training techniques existing today, all of them can be categorized into 4 types of dog training methods and they are as follows.
For the purpose of this article and to explain the four quadrants better, we shall apply them to a hypothetical situation where a dog named Loki is facing reactivity issues. We shall explain how to deal with this behavior through all four methods of dog training.
Situation: Loki is a Siberian Husky that gets reactive every time he sees a dog on walks. Every time he sees a dog, he starts barking and lunging. Being overreactive is one of many potential Husky behavior problems
1. Positive Reinforcement Training
The positive reinforcement method of dog training uses the operant conditioning concept of behavioral psychology. In operant conditioning, behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated, and behavior that is punished will rarely occur.
In the positive reinforcement method, as the name suggests, positive and desirable behaviors performed by the dog are reinforced and rewarded by adding rewards immediately after the behavior has been performed.
Examples of positive reinforcement rewards include:
- Verbal or physical praise
- Freedom to explore
- Anything else that the dog would find desirable
This method focuses on encouraging the dog to repeat behaviors by capturing them at the right time and heavily rewarding them to form a positive association between the action and the consequence. Positive reinforcement is a science-based method and its effectiveness has been proven time and again. It is a principle by which not only dogs, but all living beings learn.
Several dog training methods like relationship-based training, clicker training, treat-based training, etc that focus on capturing and rewarding desirable behaviors are different variations of positive reinforcement.
Dealing with Loki’s behavior through positive reinforcement:
When dealing with Loki’s reactivity through positive reinforcement, we attempt to make the situation more conducive for him to perform calmer and desirable behaviors. We create distance from the other dog up to a point where Loki is looking at the dog but not reacting.
As soon as Loki starts calming down we stop creating distance and reward him heavily with his favorite treats. The objective is to get Loki to be comfortable in the presence of another dog and encourage calm behavior. Doing so is the foundation for training a Husky to walk on a leash.
Must read: Best treats for huskies
2. Negative Reinforcement Training
Negative reinforcement is a training technique in which we remove an aversive or undesirable stimulus when the dog stops performing an undesirable behavior. This technique is to make the dog understand that they only receive unpleasant stimulation when they’re misbehaving.
This aversive stimulus may not always be something downright abusive like hitting or physically hurting the dog. It could be a gentle action that the dog does not enjoy. Negative reinforcement can get tricky and abusive if the aversive stimulus raises an extreme emotional response like anxiety or shut down in the dog.
The effectiveness of the negative reinforcement method is also debatable as it focuses on only stopping the behavior at the surface and does not deal with the root cause of the problem. That is like sticking a band-aid on a dislocated shoulder.
Some examples of negative reinforcement methods are:
- Training dogs with e-collars
- Using squirt bottles
- Making loud noises to startle them, and stopping once the behavior stops
- Keeping leash pressure on till the behavior continues and stopping it as soon as the behavior stops
The main essence of this method is to keep the undesirable stimulus going for as long as the undesirable behavior continues so that the dog starts associating that behavior with a negative consequence.
Dealing with Loki’s behavior through negative reinforcement:
We have used an e-collar as an example of negative reinforcement for this situation. When Loki (who is wearing an e-collar) spots a dog on his walk and gets into an episode of reactivity, the pet parent turns on the vibration/shock setting of the collar. This will continue (or get more intense) for as long as Loki keeps lunging and barking.
As soon as he starts calming down, the intensity of the e-collar will also reduce. Once Loki calms down completely, the e-collar can be turned off. This will help Loki figure out that his lunging and barking behaviors will only have undesirable consequences.
3. Positive Punishment Training
Regardless of how it sounds, positive punishment doesn’t have any positive associations with it. In everyday language, we use the word “punishment” and it is the same as positive punishment. Punishment essentially means an unpleasant outcome to reduce the likelihood of the behavior from happening again.
In other words, it means adding something unpleasant for your dog as a consequence of their bad behavior. The main objective of this unpleasant consequence is to reduce the frequency of the behavior.
Some examples of positive punishment include:
- Hitting the dog in the chest with a knee to curb jumping behavior
- Hitting a puppy with a rolled-up newspaper on the nose every time he bites
- Alpha rolls or ‘dominance downs’ where the dog is forced into a down position and held after they did something the owner didn’t like
The primary difference between negative reinforcement and positive punishment is that negative reinforcement increases the target behavior by taking away something aversive that was present all along while an undesirable behavior was taking place whereas positive punishment reduces the undesirable behavior through unpleasant stimuli.
Dealing with Loki’s behavior through positive punishment:
We have used a prong collar as an example of positive punishment for this situation. When Loki (who is wearing a prong collar) spots a dog on his walk and gets into an episode of reactivity, the pet parent may tug the prong collar in a swift motion as soon as he starts barking and lunging. The main objective of doing so is to help Loki associate reactivity with pain.
4. Negative Punishment Training
Negative punishment is a technique in which a stimulus that is considered to be desirable by the dog is taken away from him in an attempt to curb undesirable behavior. While applying negative punishment, it is imperative for the dog to know that the consequence is the end result of an action performed by the dog.
Typically, using cues like “No” or “Ah Ah” in a firm voice before taking the item away helps make the communication crystal clear and lets the dog know exactly which behavior is punished.
An example of negative punishment would be dealing with jumping-on-guests behavior in dogs by creating distance between the dog and the guest as soon as the dog starts jumping. In this case, the guest is a desirable stimulus that is taken away from the dog to discourage undesirable behaviors.
Dealing with Loki’s behavior through positive punishment:
Let’s assume in this case that Loki gets reactive at other dogs to greet them and play with them.
As soon as Loki starts displaying reactive behaviors like jumping and lunging at the others while playing, the play stops immediately.
In this scenario, the other dog becomes Loki’s most desirable stimulus that gets taken away from him as a consequence of bad behavior.
Balanced Dog Training vs Positive Reinforcement
All kinds of dog training techniques can be broadly classified into a Balanced or Positive Reinforcement style of training.
Balanced dog training may explore two or more of the four quadrants of dog training together – positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. As the name suggests, it is about striking a balance between positive and aversive styles of training. Positive reinforcement is a method of training in which the dog is never coerced into performing any behavior.
Every dog trainer adopts different approaches to dog training. Positive vs Balanced dog training has been a matter of unresolved debate in the dog training industry for a very long time. It is highly possible that you may come across trainers who have completely contrasting viewpoints on how to deal with certain undesirable behaviors.
Before hiring one, remember to know their training style and approach thoroughly and make sure you are on the same page and comfortable with them. It is also crucial for your dog to feel comfortable around the trainer too, without which learning and progress may be stunted.
The positive reinforcement style of training is scientifically proven to be universally more ethical as compared to balanced methods. Training tools commonly used by traditional and balanced trainers include shock, prong/pinch, or choke collars, verbal corrections, and physical corrections. There are pros and cons to each style of training.
It is advisable to do thorough research on your dog’s behavioral issues and ways to modify them in a way that is not abusive and does not result in a complete shutdown in your dog.
What Is The Most Effective Dog Training Method?
Truth be told, the most effective dog training technique is the one that the pet parent would consistently practice!
The AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) had taken a stand in a position statement that reward-based techniques should be used for teaching common training skills as well as to address unwanted behaviors in dogs because of the following reasons:
- In research conducted amongst a large group of dogs and pet parents, dogs trained with reward-based methods showed increased attentiveness to their owners and a higher rate of learning and responsiveness towards new, desirable behaviors.
- In observational studies, dogs trained with aversive methods or tools showed stress-related behaviors during training, including tense body, lower body posture, lip licking, tail lowering, lifting a front leg, panting, yawning, and yelping.
Furthermore, aversive methods are known to give quick results in training and behavior modification. However, behaviors like aggression, reactivity, anxiety, etc., are deeply rooted in dogs and cannot be eliminated in a couple of sessions.
Unbelievably quick results only mean that the behaviors have been curbed on the surface. This leaves the root cause of the behavior unaddressed, thereby making the behavior and the dog highly unpredictable and dangerous.
The positive reinforcement technique focuses on rewarding and reinforcing desirable behaviors and teaching dogs an alternate behavior to perform in place of undesirable behaviors. This technique addresses the root cause of the problem while building a trusting and nurturing human-canine bond.
The Most Common Dog Training Methods
Reward-Based Positive Reinforcement
Reward-based positive reinforcement style of training is one of the most widely adopted dog training approaches. It focuses on encouraging the dog to repeat desirable behaviors by rewarding them with desirable stimuli like toys, treats, praise, play, etc., immediately after they happen. With repetition and consistency, dogs start associating these behaviors with positive outcomes and willingly perform them more often.
- Fosters a trusting and loving human-canine relationship
- Makes the environment more conducive to learning
- Sets the dog up for success
- May take several months to show results when dealing with serious behavioral problems like aggression
- Timing is crucial. If the behavior is not rewarded at the right time, it may confuse the dog
Clicker training is another form of positive reinforcement. A clicker is a small metal or plastic device with a button on it that makes a clicking sound when clicked. The clicker must be clicked every time your dog performs a desirable behavior. It should be followed up with a treat or any other reward that the dog finds desirable. This makes the sound a matter of positive association for dogs helping them learn certain behaviors faster.
- Clickers are great for capturing the right behavior at the right time, which is a crucial aspect of dog training
- It is a tool that promotes positive reinforcement
- It is highly interactive and helps form a stronger human-canine bond
- It works on a simple mechanism and is very easy for dogs to learn
- It can get mechanical if the human involved does not show any verbal or physical praise after rewarding
- Not all dogs may respond to clickers
- If clicked at the wrong time, the training may go entirely wrong
Electric training collars, also known as shock collars, employ a radio signal to deliver a stimulus controlled via a transmitter. The receiver is located on the collar worn on the dog’s neck. This stimulus could range from mild to severe and can be controlled via the transmitter. E-collars are generally used either to discourage negative behavior or to encourage compliance with commands.
- It gives fast results. Several pet owners reported that they needed to give only a few shocks to the dog to train them out of certain behaviors
- The human does not have to be around or near the dog for the e-collar to work
- Ensures safety in a variety of situations
- If not used correctly, e-collars can be abusive
- E-collars may inflict pain and thereby cause physical and mental suffering to dogs
- Some of them can be expensive
- Their ethical value is highly questionable
Balanced Dog Training
Balanced dog training aims at combining aversive methods and reward-based methods of training to achieve a more balanced approach and faster results. This technique is gaining popularity because of its balanced approach and ability to give faster results. However, some aversive techniques may only get rid of the behavior at a surface level and may not address the root cause.
- If combined with positive reinforcement, balanced training is a good way to go about a dog’s behavior modification
- Faster results
- Balanced training has saved many dogs from being put down, rehomed, or abandoned
- If used incorrectly, balanced training may get abusive
- It may not address the root cause of the bad behavior
- It is not scientifically proven to work better than positive reinforcement
Alpha/Dominance-Based Dog Training
In this approach, the trainer attempts to establish themselves as the alpha to assert themselves as the dominant member of the household/pack. This method believes that if dogs are treated equally to humans, the dog may view itself as alpha or pack leader. Being alpha does not necessarily require punishment or cruel treatment of dogs, but sometimes may involve tactics like alpha roll and hitting the dog to discipline them.
- If used without hurting or bullying the dog, this technique can help make communication and pack structure clear
- It may help curb certain behaviors
- This is a very outdated method of training. Dogs have a pack structure in the wild but the role of alpha is interchangeable in different situations
- It may end up scaring the dog, especially if they are already fearful
With the number of studies, research, content, information, and opinions available all around us, it can be tricky to narrow down a dog training technique that may actually do wonders for your dog.
Dogs learn better and grow up into well-behaved, confident canines when the environment is conducive to learning and if they share a healthy relationship with their humans.
Regardless of the training technique you adopt, make sure to prioritize your dog’s needs and mental and physical well-being over anything else.
Which dog training method best suits you?
Let us know in the comments below.
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