Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Has Limitations

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Has Limitations

Positive reinforcement has its limitations.

This is sure to get me in hot water. But in my never ending quest to help you understand and train your dog, I will forge on and brave the arrows to help you.

We live in interesting times. The dog training world is no exception. There is a HUGE movement to convince dog owners they can NEVER, under any circumstances, use any sort of negative consequence with their dog. No fear, no force, no pain, no discomfort… EVER!

Here is the problem with the no fear, no force, no pain, no discomfort agenda.

Veterinarians routinely must do very unpleasant things to dogs. They inject metal tubes into dogs in the form of vaccinations. They spay and neuter dogs, they use force and sometimes put the dog into pain and discomfort for the health of the dog. Some dogs are terrified of going to the vet’s office. I am working with a dog right now that has to be muzzled and carried into the vet’s office. Next week I am going to vet’s office with them, to help owner and dog. I am confident the dog will benefit.

Groomers use force, pain, and discomfort. There are many dogs who hate getting their nails clipped. Sometimes the dog’s quick (small blood vessel in the nail) gets cut. Some dogs are petrified of the entire process. The bathing, brushing, drying, and so on. Would any of you ever stop going to your vet or groomer?

Balanced dog trainers use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement and sometimes punishment to help your dog. Any trainer who disagrees is a fraud and unethical. Any trainer who tells you to JUST use positive reinforcement and treats to solve every problem is going to send you down a long, useless, depressing road.

If all you needed was positive reinforcement you could 100% get your dog to come back to you every time he got loose. But chances are most of you reading this would panic if your dog ran out the front door. If all you needed was a treat, you would have no reason to panic. Simply call your dog and offer a treat. In reality, your dog will probably flip you the paw and keep running.

Why? Why can’t you just offer a cookie have your dog come running back to you? The reason is simple:


This is NOT a knock on positive reinforcement or using food to train. I use loads of positive reinforcement to train. The goal of this email is to give you an understanding of how training really works. There are a lot of variables that go into using positive reinforcement in order for it to work and a lot of steps must line up right. You can follow us on Twitter for more tips.

Imagine you are training a dog. You want to teach “SIT” using rewards (which is what I do). The dog you are working with has to be:

  1. Hungry
  2. Like what you are offering.
  3. Focused on you and not distracted.
  4. Relaxed (stressed dogs don’t eat).

If one of the four or all four kick in, you are in a pickle. I see this a lot when I teach group classes.

  • “My dog’s not eating the treats. I just fed him dinner before coming here.” Facepalm!
  • “My dog doesn’t like the treats I’m using.” UGH!
  • “My dog wants to play with the other dogs and doesn’t care about the treats.” GRRR!
  • “My dog just flipped on his back and peed. He is afraid of the other dogs.” I understand.

The dog going to the vet’s office I mentioned earlier is NOT going to take treats. He is too stressed out take a bite of food. Here is a question for you. What makes you nervous or afraid? Flying? Dental visits, clowns, snakes, spiders, heights? Do you feel like having a bite of food when all you want to do is run away? Do you feel like nibbling on a roast beef sandwich when Pennywise makes an appearance in your backyard?

“Oh look, there’s a killer clown walking toward me. I think I’ll eat a hot dog with mustard and onions.” EXACTLY!

When you are stressed you have no need for food and food will do nothing to change your behavior. If anything, in certain situations food makes the behavior worse (an email for another day).

But the world we live in today is POSITIVE ONLY! And that is dangerous and deadly advice.

SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG: Deadly Dog Training Myth

Anyway, my point is you should NOT rule out prong, electronic collars, or punishment until you have an understanding of how they work. You should NOT rule them out until you have seen a true dog training professional use them.

The positive only, force free crowd has worked hard to convince you punishment is the same as abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. A tool is just a tool. A hammer can be used to build a beautiful piece of furniture or smash it to bits. A prong or e collar can help a dog breakthrough a terrifying situation like nothing else.

So stay tuned. I’ll see if I can get permission to record the session at the vet’s office.

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