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The Effect of Training Method on Stress Levels in Dogs

dog canine pet training learning reward punishment discipline positiveTo give you a bit of a technical background, in reality there are only four methods that are used to teach dogs the kinds of tasks and behaviors that we humans are interested in having them learn. The first is called positive reinforcement, where the term "reinforcement" refers to anything that increases the likelihood that the dog will repeat a behavior. The "positive" refers to the fact that we give the dog something that he wants, like a treat. The second method is called negative reinforcement, where the "negative" refers to taking something unwanted or annoying away, so for example, if you pull up on the leash causing a choke chain to tighten and push down on the dog's hindquarters while you tell him to sit, the negative reinforcement comes when the dog goes into the sitting position you take away the pressure around his neck and on his lower back. The other two methods involve punishment. A punisher is anything that reduces the likelihood that a dog will repeat a behavior. Positive punishment refers to the fact that when a dog does something which we don't want him to do we apply something the dog doesn't like, which could be a slap or a loud reprimand. Negative punishment involves taking something that the individual wants away from him. A human example would be if the child acts out the dinner table he doesn't get dessert when everybody else does. Positive dog training is almost always based on positive reinforcement, while discipline-based training uses a combination of negative reinforcement and positive punishment.

Prior to the mid-1940s, most dog training was done using discipline-based training, since most of the early training models came from military dog trainers who had the idea that a dog should be trained using the same kind of discipline-based procedures that were used for human recruits. The change toward more positive training came about because of a series of books written by Blanche Saunders. Although by today's positive training standards she was still a bit harsh, she clearly recognized the value of rewards and was much softer on her canine students than most trainers before her. Over time, positive dog training has come to dominate the canine training scene, following much along the model of the techniques used by Ian Dunbar and others. However over the past few years, due to the influence of certain high profile dog trainers who have popular television series like Cesar Millan, discipline-based training has begun to gain in popularity.

One of the people in the group that I was speaking with insisted that discipline-based training procedures should not have been abandoned, and that no real proof exists showing negative effects on dogs. She complained that there was a bias among canine researchers, who she referred to as "foodies" since they usually reward the dogs with a stream of food treats. "Just because we live in a kinder and gentler world doesn't mean that we can't teach a dog that when he does something we don't like it has negative consequences, " she said. "Properly applied, by people who know what they're doing, there's nothing wrong with negative reinforcement or a little bit of punishment. The problem is that most researchers and the people they get to train the dogs they test probably don't really believe in discipline-based training, and so they either overdo it, or don't work as hard at using it properly."

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