Remember when you were a child and your parents gave you $10 for every A on your report card? That cash acted as a huge incentive to try to get all A’s on every report card. This is known as positive reinforcement, which can work equally well with your pet, although, of course, money won’t be effective as a reward. Your furry pal cares most about praise and food, which are highly valuable during training sessions. Before you set out to train your pet using positive reinforcement, our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team will answer the questions we hear most frequently.
Question: What is positive reinforcement training?
Answer: Positive reinforcement training is a reward-based method that praises desired behavior. This training method never uses force to make a pet comply, or physical punishment for incorrectly performed behaviors. Instead, rewards, which can include praise, treats, toys, brushing—anything your pet finds valuable—are withheld until your pet performs the desired behavior. Because your pet is more likely to repeat the rewarded behavior, positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools for shaping or changing how they behave.
Q: Are there other types of training?
A: Although positive reinforcement is not the only training method, it’s considered the most effective. Other types of training include:
- Clicker training — Clicker training relies heavily on the same principles as positive reinforcement, and could be included in the positive reinforcement group. This technique relies on a device, such as a clicker, to make a quick, sharp noise that is a signal to the pet that they performed the desired behavior. Clicker training can be effective because your pet receives the signal at the exact moment they complete the desired behavior and they know exactly what is being rewarded.
- Electronic training — Electronic training relies on an electric collar that delivers a shock or a citronella spray when a pet behaves incorrectly. This method is mostly used for training at a distance, such as training a dog to stay inside the boundaries of an unfenced yard. Electronic training relies on punishment for incorrect behavior, with no chance for rewards, so pets learn only what they shouldn’t do, not what they should. Additionally, electronic collars cause unnecessary pain, stress, and anxiety.
- Dominance training — Dominance theory suggests that dogs see their families as their packs and follow a social hierarchy, like wolf packs. Based on this theory, the person should be the alpha and use force and power as needed to dominate the dog until they submit. This theory is outdated, as dogs no longer have that same pack dynamic. Plus, this method fails to address the underlying causes of improper behavior and leaves pets feeling anxious and fearful, which can be dangerous.
Q: What are the benefits of positive reinforcement training over other methods?
A: Positive reinforcement training provides the greatest benefits, with the fewest drawbacks. Using positive reinforcement to train your pet means you:
- Instill a trusting and lasting bond between you and your pet
- Do not use physical force or verbal reprimands to make your pet follow your cue
- Use your pet’s favorite reward to inspire them to master a new trick
- Foster confidence and willingness in your pet to experience new activities, places, and people
Positive reinforcement is especially effective for building a shy or nervous pet’s confidence, especially in unfamiliar situations, and helping a confident, exuberant pet control their energy and focus while training.
Q: How can I start using positive reinforcement training with my pet?
A: If you’ve already tried training your pet with another method, you can easily switch to positive reinforcement. With positive reinforcement training, correct timing is essential. Offer your pet a reward immediately after they perform the desired behavior. The toy, treat, or praise must occur in a few seconds, so your pet understands the reward is linked to the behavior. If your pet does not behave as desired, take a few seconds to reset, and try again. You can also add clicker training to your positive reinforcement tool-kit.
Are you interested in enrolling your pet in a training class? Before signing up, ensure your furry pal is in good health with a wellness visit. Contact our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team for an appointment.