The Positives of Positive Training

October 28, 2015

There are several divides in the dog training world regarding which techniques are best and which should no longer be used. Ultimately any behaviour can be taught using force free training so with that in mind why is it that people still resort to methods that rely on fear, force or pain. Instead of using tools like choke, prong and shock collars, water sprays and rattle bottles we could get the same results using treats, toys, praise, clickers and life rewards. We love our pets so why are we using aversives to train them?


 (Logan loves tennis balls, therefore they make for a great reward)

An aversive is anything that a dog would want to avoid, this can differ from dog to dog (what one dog may dislike one may actually like). But there are some aversives that are used regularly in the dog training industry to eliminate a behaviour or even elicit a new one. The obvious downside to using an aversive is it can create a fear response in the dog, particularly one that is sensitive, fearful or nervous. A great way to look at this came from Jean Donaldson in a Webinar I recently watched. She explained that when you use food (or other rewards for that matter) in training you create emotional responses to a variety of stimulus such as reaching into your pocket, crinkling a packet and even your hands. This is because the dog associates each of these stimuli with something good happening to him. Therefore by the same token when you use aversives you also create emotional responses, however this time the dog associates these stimuli with something  bad. Take for example using a rattle bottle, yes the noise may stop the unwanted behaviour but then the dog may also start to exhibit a fear response/stop what he is doing when you go to take a sip out of an ordinary drinking bottle, or when he hears a similar rattling sound. In the same instance a dog that is hit may start to exhibit a fear response to hands coming towards him or any surrounding quick movements.


Positive reinforcement is the process of giving something rewarding to a dog when is does something you want or like. Again, like with aversives the reward differs from dog to dog; what one dog likes another may not. A great way to explain positive reinfrocment is by comparing rewarding your dog to you getting paid for doing your job. Asking your dog to do something just because you said so is like you going to work for no money. If that was the case you would be completely unmotivated and you are not going to want to to work, especially if you are forced to. Using a positive approach to training also strengthens your relationship with the animal. Consider the above work scenario, what is your relationship and feeling towards your boss going to be like if you are forced to work with no pay. Compare this relationship to one where a boss gives you rewards and makes work fun. A dog that enjoys training is going to perform better than one that is forced to work and is trained using aversives.

 (Logan with one of his Trick Titles, all trained force free)

The problem that some have with positive training is they consider using treats in training as bribery. This is not the case, during training the reward comes after the behaviour and once the dog has learned the desired beaviour it does not need to be rewarded with food every single time. You can choose to continue to carry treats if you so wish but life rewards can be use to reinforce training. A life reward could be could be being let off lead, going for walks,  going into the garden or being fed.

To conclude, why are we using forceful, fear provoking methods to train the animals we love. If dolphins, sealions, rats, elephants and rhinos can all be trained using force free methods so can our domestic pets. You can solve behaviour problems using force free methods alone and so there is no place in modern dog training for aversives.

Some great resources;

Nando Brown YouTube Channel;
The Pet Professional Guild;
Kikipup YouTube Channel;

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