WHY REWARD-BASED TRAINING?
Behaviour stems from two types of learning, and not unlike humans, fidos learn by the immediate outcomes of their actions and by associations that they make (i.e., event patterns/predictions).
Aversive training methods, even if "balanced" with positive reinforcement rely upon a dog's natural desire to avoid pain and discomfort. If a consequence is not sufficiently unpleasant, the dog has no reason to change his behaviour to avoid it and learning does not occur. Therefore, by its very definition, a training approach that relies partially or fully on aversive consequences involves causing some level of discomfort or pain to the dog. The basic emotions associated with pain and discomfort in dogs (& humans) are fear and anxiety.
Linda P. Case MSc., Department of Animal Sciences & College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois
Rewards motivate continued performance. In fact it is a law of nature...
Thorndike’s Law of Effect established that behaviours which result in pleasant outcomes for the performer are more likely to be repeated in the same or similar situation and that the opposite is also true. Behaviours which result in discomfort or unpleasantness for the performer are less likely to be repeated again in the same or similar situation.
We've learned more about dog behaviour over the past 20 years than ever before in history and compelling research results continue to be published about the effects of chosen training methods on dog welfare and future behaviour outcomes. A study published in spring 2021 found that "puppy training based on reward-based methods substantially reduced the odds of aggression in adult dogs" (Dinwoodie et. al. 2021).
Three big reasons why we only use reward-based aversive-free methods:
It works to drive desirable long lasting behaviour.
Produces increased emotional regulation, confidence, & resiliency.
Extensive amounts of evidence support the two reasons listed above.
It turns out that our goals to raise a well-adjusted dog can be achieved without the undue risks that are associated with outdated and violent training methods. Those message that went along with those old methods was that we would not be a good leader for our dog unless we yelled, hurt, scared, manhandled, bullied, intimidated, scolded, choked, pierced, poked, jerked, yanked, pulled, pushed, shocked, hit, roll, slap, knee, kick, startle, spray, bonk, or stun them. Picture for a moment, that someone in a leadership position in your life was being deliberately hurtful to you, psychologically or physically. It's likely that this person's behaviour toward you would cause an increase in your negative stress levels (distress) and a decrease in your confidence, especially when they are around. Interested in learning more about how dog training has evolved over time? Click here for A Short History of Dog Training.
What constitutes a reward is in the eye of the beholder. It is up to us to determine what Fido considers rewarding if we want to motivate desirable behaviour from them in a way that's physically and psychologically safe plus effective for everyone involved.
There is no free lunch in dog training.
Reward-based training works via the human becoming a consequence machine. Giving and withholding rewards as a consequence of the behaviour being offered in the moment will get us to the result we want with lower stress for us and our dog.
The more we immediately reinforce behaviours that we like, the more often Fido will repeat those behaviours. Alternatively, behaviours that no longer result in a rewarding or beneficial outcome in Fido's eyes is likely to lower their motivation to repeat the behaviour as they come to learn that it no longer serves them as it once did.
5 important canine research conclusions to consider when raising Fido:
Nature and nurture both influence behavioural development. One generally cannot fully compensate for the other, so effort should be made during the initial stages of growth to implement an appropriate plan for enjoyable environmental and social exposures as a preventive approach to help decrease chances of problem behaviours appearing during adulthood.
Puppy socialization training is important in healthy behaviour development and can have a significant preventative effect on a dog's likelihood to show undesirable behaviours to new dogs and people.
Pet dogs trained using reward-based methods are no less obedient than those trained using aversive methods, furthermore these dogs exhibit less cases of problematic behaviours throughout their lives.
Dogs are more likely to associate scary punishments not with their own behaviour, but with a person or a context, and can lead to other developmental detriments like decreased interactivity in play with both dogs and people.
The use of aversive based training methods to modify aggression increases the likelihood of injury to the owner and risks causing harm to the relationship with their companion dog.
Sources: Blackwell et al., 2008, Casey et al., 2014, Gonzalez-Martinez et al., 2019, Todd, 2018, Cooper et. al, 2014, Blackwell et al., 2012, Rooney &, Cowan, 2011, Howell, King & Bennett, 2015, Deldalle & Gauntlet, 2014, Hiby, Rooney, & Bradshaw, 2004, Schilder & van der Borg, 2004, Ziv, 2017, Lafollette, Rodriguez, Ogata, O’Haire, 2019
"Based on a litany of evidence in animal (and human) literature, dog training, regardless of age, should be free of fear, pain, and intimidation allowing the learner freedom to make mistakes (trial-and-error learning) without fear of retribution, which interferes with long-term learning.
Application of positive training methods, including reward-based operant conditioning, counterconditioning, desensitization, shaping, and luring, has proven effective in improving learning and compliance, lowering distress, and reducing long-term conflict between humans and animals. Training that relies on clear communication, establishing operations, and managing expectations whereby the learner is informed when he/she problem solves correctly has shown to increase the frequency of wanted behaviors for dog owners and lower frustration in dogs.
On the other hand, training methods based on positive punishment and negative reinforcement are related to higher incidences of behavior problems, aggression, and fear and in some studies have been shown to increase stress hormones."
Ian R. Dinwoodie BSc, Vivian Zottola MSc, & Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman BVMS, DACVA, DACVB
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University & the Center for Canine Behavior Studies