How do positive reinforcement techniques work?
Positive reinforcement techniques are based on the cooperation and harmony between the dog and his owner. With these techniques, the owner and his dog are both winners. Everybody wins because the owner is rewarded by his dog behaving well and the dog is rewarded for his good behavior. It is the opposite of punitive techniques (example: choke collar), where the dog is punished for his « bad conduct ». With these techniques there is only one winner: the owner. In fact, the dog trained in this way, sadly develops problems with anxiety and aggression.
But how does positive reinforcement work? It’s very simple, you just have to reward the good actions and ignore the bad. The reward is usually an appetizing treat, it can also be a caress or a « good dog » if that is a strong and motivating enough reinforcement for the dog.
In basic education, we will reinforce postures (ex: sit, lie down) by rewarding dogs with treats. We can also modify undesirable behaviors by replacing them with more « profitable » behaviors. Such is the case for the dog who jumps on people when they arrive. If we only give the dog attention when he is sitting, he won’t jump anymore because it gives him nothing. Remaining in the sitting position is more rewarding for him. The same goes for a great number of dogs who are aggressive. Often, they are dogs who are anxious or phobic. It is therefore possible to change their emotions and replace them with joy and confidence using positive reinforcement. In cases like these punishment would be catastrophic, because it increases the level of fear and anxiety and the aggressions may become more and more intense and with less and less warning.
The fear owners have is to be stuck with always giving rewards to their dog. In fact, once the behavior is well learned, the treats will be given at random. They will eventually be eliminated and replaced by a symbolic reward (a « good dog » for example). It is not necessary to always carry around a large amount of treats in your pockets to have an obedient dog!
Positive reinforcement is a technique where the hierarchical model is in no way implicated. Incidentally, this model is very controversial and put in question. The techniques of positive reinforcement have been proven and are very much valued by veterinarians and well known canine educators such as Dr. Joel Dehasse, Dr. Martin Godbout, Jean Lessard, Jacinthe Bouchard, Dr. Sophia Yin, Susan Garrett, Karen Pryor and many others.