Positive reinforcement training, often abbreviated as R+, is the belief that we can teach our pets by showing them what we want them to do, rather than telling them what not to do. Another way to put this is that we can teach our dogs through the use of something the dog wants, rather than aversives (things the dog will avoid). In other words—we can use the stuff the dog likes in order to motivate him to do what we want. In contrast, some people believe that punishments are an important part of training.
R+ training might be new to you, but in fact, it has been around since at least the 1950s, and there is even more than a hint of it in the first-ever book written on dog training (Hutchinson 1848). R+ training has been shown to be highly effective, both in working with fun “trick” training, sport dogs, and working with problem behaviors and even aggression. In fact, almost all of the major dog training organizations, including the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), recommend that we use the least amount of punishment and aversive training techniques possible. For many trainers, including myself, we are able to use nothing unpleasant in our training at all.
Positive reinforcement training isn’t just for professionals. You can do it too! At first, the challenges might seem daunting—positive reinforcement training does require skill and forward-thinking. It isn’t easy to transition overnight—and in fact, too sudden of a transition might be a bit confusing for you and your dog. However, I guarantee you, once you start building the habits it becomes easier and easier. Once you are fluent, it is actually faster and more effective than any other training technique available!
Positive reinforcement training is overall more enjoyable for the dog—and for you! Done right, dogs look forward to their training sessions. It also builds a relationship and trust. Many “old school” problems (like running away, avoidance, and sneaking into the back closet to eliminate) just seem to melt away. Dogs that have been taught to have an optimistic outlook on life (through positive reinforcement and resilience training), may have less stress and live longer. But perhaps the best benefit is the close, almost magical relationship you build with your buddy.
If you have never tried it, now is the time. Check out some of the wonderful tips and tricks available on The DogHouse. My personal favorite for getting started is The Name Game.