Rewards beats corrections hands down in training.


Rewards beats corrections hands down in training

I have always heard people saying; They bring their “soft” dog to positive reinforcement training and their “hard” dog to a correction-based method (pinch collars with collar corrections) training school.

The difference between primary and secondary rewards. “Primary” reinforcements are those that satisfy a physiological need. This includes food, necessary for life itself. “Secondary” reinforcements do not fulfil a need; rather they are learned associations with something pleasant. Verbal praise is a secondary reinforcement for dogs – such rewards do not come naturally.

On the hierarchy of dogs’ rewards, food has it all overpraise. It’s like the difference between your boss telling you you’ve done a good job or giving you a week’s pay as a bonus for that job. Which reward would be more motivating for your future performance?

It’s the same for dogs. Praise is nice, but for most dogs, food is far more motivating for future performance. And that’s what training is all about. Rewards are motivation for future performance.

The difference between the reward-based training we use and methods that use “corrections” followed by praise is that correction-based training sets the dog up for punishment for what he didn’t do rather than rewarding him for what he did well.

Some people are reluctant to use food in training, fearing two things: that they’ll always have to carry food or the dog won’t behave, and that giving food treats will create a monster – a dog that begs, steals food, and the like. Both fears are unfounded!

When I hear that someone thinks positive reinforcement training isn’t for their dog, I feel bad for their dog, however, there are two new scientific studies out of England that support this.

One study investigated the relationship between consistency, punishment and rewards in various training methods. The study asked 217 questions about the dog’s behaviour and training methods. (Note, in the following quote, “punishment” is the scientific terminology for “corrections” such as yanking on the collar, yelling, slapping, physically harsh methods, and the like.)

"Punishers, i.e., dog owners that used a high harshness or frequency of punishment and several methods of punishment, had a significantly higher level of training problems and lower obedience, while the use of frequent rewards was correlated significantly with lower level of training problems and the higher level of obedience. In the problem behaviour group, increased control was related to high trainability, decreased fear of strangers and reduced non-social fear. The findings suggest that rule structure is a useful tool to achieve an obedient dog but seems to be dependent on the use of a low level of punishment in the training program.”

The bottom line, dogs need consistency regardless of the training method (no surprise there), but dogs trained with correction-based methods are less obedient and have more behaviour problems than dogs trained with positive reinforcement. The good news from this study is that dogs benefit most from consistent training when it’s combined with rewards for good behaviour rather than punishment for bad.

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