In Praise of Positive Reinforcement for Your Pets
January 30, 2021
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by admin

Bark collars that either spray citronella or use electric shocks are some of the most common harmful products that “work” by causing pain or discomfort. Some of the more covert tools promise to keep dogs from barking by using ultrasonic or high-pitched sounds that people can’t hear. These products also “work” because while silent to people, the sound is uncomfortable or even painful to dogs. Electronic or “invisible” fences “work” to keep a dog in their yard because it relies on pain to keep the dog contained. Not only is this not ideal, they pose additional dangers as many dogs will run through the fence in pursuit of a squirrel, cat or other dog. At this point dogs can get injured, but then will be afraid to return to their yard as they will get shocked or physically punished again while returning home. 

What the Science Says

As we have learned more about animal behavior, we now know that non pain-based training methods make our pets happier and help them learn better. 

“The scientific research on dog training shows that there are risks to using training methods such as leash jerks (often called “corrections,”) pinch collars, electronic shock collars, alpha rolls, or other aversive methods. Those risks include fear, anxiety, aggression, and a worse relationship with the dog. And punishing a dog for doing something you don’t like does not teach them what to do instead,” Todd advises. It’s also worth noting that beyond causing physical and emotional discomfort, punishing your dog is actually a great way to get yourself injured. Using pain-causing tools is like adding gasoline to a fire. 

In fact “59% bites in the household come from owners trying to discipline their dogs,” explained Khara Schuetzner, chair of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers in reference to a 2007 study looking at dog aggression. 

Instead, Develop a Common Language

Schuetzner encourages people to think of your dog as a toddler who speaks a different language. For example if  “the only time the 3-year-old gets your attention is doing something “naughty” and you punish the child, what are you teaching? The child learns every time you come towards them you are going to do something which causes pain and discomfort. If you do this with your pet, your pet will start associating you with pain and discomfort.” 

Instead of punishing our pets, she explained, we want to develop a common language. By utilizing positive reinforcement, you can shift your pet’s behavior and help them develop positive associations with people or things that they were fearful of. Similarly, you can teach your pet to do something you want them to do, instead something you don’t.  For example, reward your cat with treats or toys for scratching a cat tree instead of your couch. If your dog that gets extremely excited at the sight of other dogs, use treats to teach your dog to watch you instead. 

If someone promises you that buying their product will fix troublesome behavior, that’s a good sign you want to run the other way. As we’ve said, just like human behavior can’t be changed with the flip of a switch, the same is true for pets. 

Positive Reinforcement Isn’t Just for ‘Easy’ Pets 

Often I hear pet owners, especially those with large, rambunctious dogs, defend using pain-causing tools because they say they tried everything already. However, the key to success is that positive reinforcement training methods don’t force your pet to corporate, they help your pet understand what you want them to do by guiding them to make decisions you want them to make. 

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