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Sunday, August 25, 2013

I tried positive. It didn't work

Why are people so quick to give up on positive, reward-based training methods but remain fully committed to using punishment -- even when it's clear that is not working?

1. The people who yank their dogs by the neck every two feet during a walk. If punishment worked, then continuous yanking would not be needed.

2. The people who keep spray bottles and cans of pennies handy in case their dog barks. If startle methods worked, then the pet parent would not need to keep these items.

Reward based training works. What is often lacking is:

A. Proofing - making sure our dogs understand the desired behavior in all contexts then slowly adding in distractions.


B. Successive approximations - breaking down the behavior into tiny increments so that our dogs can succeed at each step.

For example: A behavior as difficult as loose leash walking would be easier to teach if pet parents started in a small room with no distractions, then moved on to a bigger room, then the backyard (if one is available), then the sidewalk and so on. If guardians start trying to teach loose leash walking in a popular park on a Saturday afternoon, the process will break down. See more on proofing loose leash walking here


  1. Great post - I'll share my anonymous experience.

    Early on I tried negative. It didn't work, was frustrating, and it made both of us feel bad.

    I'm lucky that my dog is resilient and forgiving - another dog could've been permanently affected.

    Today, it's all positive and we have a great relationship - I wouldn't trade that for anything. One only has to look at videos of dogs being clicker trained to see how happy they are!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Doggy Kisses.
    I'm glad that your pup is resilient and forgiving.

    You highlighted one or the great things about reward based training - there is plenty of room for error. When using rewards, if our timing is off, the dog isn't harmed. The dog might learn the wrong thing but we can just reteach.

    When negative training is used, sometimes we can cause mental damage. Damage that can be difficult to overcome.