When Did “positive Reinforcement” Become The Preferred Dog Training Method?

A Reader Asks…

I remember a time when the “rolled up newspaper” of was the accepted norm. Back then, many trainers taught their to do amazing things (and do them quite well) using methods that most folks today would consider “cruel”. I'm not advocating any particular school of training here, but I was wondering: What happened that most people changed their training habits? How did start, and do you think it will continue to be the preferred method of dog training?

(Scroll down to see responses)

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    • roadkill
    • August 11, 2009

    i agree with Greekman & Shehperdgirl. i’ll stick with old school.
    before i say more, let me make it clear i don’t believe in mistreating animals or children.
    and their is a difference between a beating and a swat on the butt with a news paper or belt.
    the don’t fear me and they are happy to see me when i come home. they will both kill to protect me,
    time as proven that positive reinforcement doesn’t work, time out doesnt work, our schools are a perfect example. the teachers are afraid of the student’s who don’t have to answer for their bad conduct. hell spend a day in wal mart on the week in and watch the kids run wild.they are rude they don’t mind there parents and they scream and holler when they don’t git their way.
    no they don’t fear there parents, but they don’t respect them ether.
    both my mom and dad spanked me when i did wrong, they didn’t do it because they wanted to but they had to teach me that when i did something that was wrong there was a penalty to be paid. they love me and tried to give me a good upbringing. i didn’t turn out exactly like the intended but when i start to do wrong now i all ways stop and think is it worth what it will cost me. do i wont to pay that penalty.

    • Dogjudge
    • August 11, 2009

    Well this article puts it with Ian Dunbar.http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?fi…
    Karen Pryor with her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog”. Everything keeps showing the 1999 edition, but I know the book was written well before then. (I’d love to see her expertise, applied operant conditioning talked about here vis a vis dominance.)
    Gary Wilkes was in the early 90s
    My guess in retrospect is the early 90s.
    You’re always going to have the “beat the dog up” crowd. Sort of like children.

    • rescue member
    • August 11, 2009

    Same time people stopped beating their children “for their own good”. Violence simply breeds fear and more violence – in kids and animals.
    Trust and communication are the key to respect and love – now, if that were just as easy to implement as it is to figure out —-

    • HappyBun
    • August 11, 2009

    I think basically what happened is people realized hitting isnt the best method. Just like they realized hey, beating your wife because she doesnt listen to you or beating your children because they misbehave doesnt work either.
    The idea behind positive reinforcement is your dog doesnt learn to fear you. Any person that wants their dog to fear them doesnt need to have a dog anyway, thats irresposible and immature.

    • anne b
    • August 11, 2009

    First thumbs down, Greekman. You can return the favor if you want.
    You are an extremist. There is a happy medium between what you do and what some people “think” positive reinforcement training is. It is certainly not having “talks” with your pet. It is simply rewarding the behaviors you want the dog to have, and controlling the behaviors you don’t want, but are natural dog behaviors. A dog will understand the reward and repeat the good behavior, because we have spent thousands of years breeding into them the desire to please us.
    Your method leaves no room for the intelligence of the animal, which in some dogs is more than some people I know.
    My dogs are not perfect, but they are well-trained. No people are perfect either, so I don’t expect perfection in dogs either.

    • Penny K
    • August 11, 2009

    It has been discovered that this type of training is far better then the “Old School” method. Better results come from it. If you understand the way a Dog processes info that you are giving him, it really makes perfect sense.I was raised with the “Old School” methods….but after I learned the positive effects of positive reinforcement, and saw how much better it was…I would never do it any other way. Dogs are very eager to learn and please……this method addresses that and builds on it. My experience with this method has been very satisfying and productive…..and I might add….they learn very quickly from it also. How can you complain, when using this method…your pup is house broken in 2 days?Dogs respond with love and respect to kindness and patience and understanding , not with yelling and hitting with a newspaper. Think about the effect of that from a dogs point of view…..how they are perceiving it? They don’t think like us…they are taught right from wrong…they are not born knowing it.

    • rayzser
    • August 11, 2009

    Postive reinforcement teaches the dog to continue doing the thing you like, so it will learn to do more of what it’ll get rewarded for than what it will get ignored of. Animals are family.

    • Believer ©
    • August 11, 2009

    It happened at the same time that parents stopped punishing their children. Parents now a days think that they can simply reason with their children at too young an age. Taking something away is negative, spanking their child is negative. They don’t want to hurt little Tommy’s feelings. They don’t want him to feel bad. And then that carried over into, let’s not keep score at basketball and football games because the kids on the losing team will feel badly, so let’s pretend that tommy didn’t get his butt kicked so he never learns how to deal with not winning, not coming in first, not being the best. And then these kids grow up to be self-centered, I deserve everything without having to work for it adults and all this carries over into how people deal with their pets.
    I’m a teacher – I see these kids every day. The ones with no accountability, no sense of responsibility because they aren’t getting it at home – and neither are their pets. So they raise brats for children and brats for dogs.
    Do dogs deserve spankings no – but think about it people. Negative reinforcement need not be abuse. Negative reinforcement can be as simple as shaking a can of coins at a barking dog (which I got thumbs downed for by the way – how cruel!!). Negative reinforcement can be as simple as – you are pulling me this way so I am going to go in the opposite direction because I decide where we go.
    My trainer does NOT advocate intimidation but she pointed something out – that I think a lot of people forget. In a pack – even a pack of dogs (not wolves) somebody is leader – and if my lower on the totem pole dog does something the pack leader doesn’t like, the pack leader is going to put him in his place – quickly, swiftly, and with no remorse. Dogs don’t feel bad about putting an ill-behaving dog in its place. Nor should we. if need be, if you need to control an out of control dog, people need to think like a dog. I’m not saying alpha roll or beat the dog, because you are a human and your dog isn’t going to get it. But life is NOT always about positive things – you have to teach humans and pets to deal with negative things as well – it can be just as powerful if not more so.

    • 2thedogs
    • August 11, 2009

    There will always be trends in dog training just as with any other sport or hobby. I have two dogs with two very distinct personalities. I use two very distinct training methods with them. My lab is extremly dominant (female) who will try to mount pretty much every dog in sight. She scent marks her territory too! This have obviously lead to some dog fights, she used to be a horrible leash lunger and resource guarder as well. She has worn a prong collar and has seen some more corrective types of training, and it’s worked. I can’t deny that.
    I also have a b.c. mix that is a sweet pea and wouldn’t fight with another dog, ever. He is clicker trained, never worn a prong or choke and never needed to. He’s a natural follower, looking to me for guidance at every turn.
    I think positive reinforcement should be used for household tricks and behaviors. Sit, down, stay, speak etc. And also for dog sports–my lab has 3 years of agility under her belt, 100% positive training.
    However I have never garnered a clear understanding of how a clicker and some treats are supposed to stop or prevent a dog fight. Or prevent my lab from trying to dominate every dog in our neighborhood.
    It’s a mixed bag for me, you have to tailor the training to the dog. Both methods have been proven to be effective in various situations. What worries me about the resurgance of corrective methods is that with little information the average person has the potential to harm their dog with these techniques. No easy answer I suppose.
    Greekman–for the type of work you do, the training you use is spot on. I would argue however, that just as many good dogs have been ruined by corrective training as those ruined by the positive training. My border collie would break under that kind of pressure, however he would never be the type of dog to use in protection work or ring sports. Each dog has a job to fullfil and your training methods depend on that entirely!

    • dogperso
    • August 11, 2009

    It was gradual really. My 15 yr old dog with a CDX degree was trained with a pinch collar and lots of jerking and pulling. But, we had started to use food rewards, which we never did with the old Kohler training methods.
    I went to a Gary Wilkes tricker training seminar when my Rottie was a puppy. She is 11 1/2 now. I used clicker training on her and was amazed at how fast she learned and how eager to learn more. But, I didn’t find the clicker training worked to get a competitive obedience dog. So, to learn what she needed to get her CDX title, I used a pinch collar and lots of jerking and pulling and the ear pinch for the retrieve. But, I did use clickers and positive methods to teach her tricks and for agility training. Also, used tons of food in obedience training along with the pinch collar.
    My current dog has never had a pinch or choke collar on him. He has been trained with a clicker. However, I never tried to do competitive obedience with him. He does agility.
    He is not as reliable as my force trained dogs. And, I’m not really convinced you could ever have a high scoring competitive obedience dog using only positive methods. Most the competitive obedience trainers I know still use force when the dog knows the exercise and decides to not do it.
    I’ve seen enough pet training classes to know that many times an out of control dog needs more than a clicker and treats. Dogs who are undersocialized and out of control are not going to pay attention to the treats, but they will to a pinch collar. I think it’s like everything else, we go off on a tangent, but in reality there is a time and place for the old fashion punishment based training.

    • koehlerdogtraining ©
    • August 11, 2009

    Oh, they’ve been around for a very long time, but no one noticed them simply because they were all mostly just ring filler. But then this group of frustrated non-trainers, unable to meet the requirements of this country’s oldest and only qualified association of obedience instructors, felt dis-infranchised because they had no voice. And why should they, they could not even meet the standard of being able to teach their students novice level obedience.
    So these folks got together to form what I like to call the Association of Platitude Dispensing Trainers – and the whole positive movement then had a collected voice … and boy have they got a lot to say (you’ll soon see what I mean). And the best part … to this very day, the only membership requirement is that members have to keep their dues paid. Members do not have to be able to train any dog, heck, there is no requirement to ever have even owned one. If you can fill out the application and a check … you’re in.
    Funny as all heck … at their annual conferences, attendees are discouraged (I’ve heard prohibited) from bringing any dogs … can’t be trusted to manage them in public places. How’s that as a statement for the measure of the positive movement?
    How long will it last? Part of me says: I hope forever … they are great for business!! But then I see the numbers of dogs they are failing, or breeds they are contributing to the banning of (by failing to get the dogs trained and the owners motivated) and I hope they go away, before my best friend does.

    • ♥♥☺♥♥
    • August 10, 2009

    People decided to change when they realized that dogs aren’t as stupid and without feeling as they (most people) thought. I hope it continues to be the preferred method of training because dogs should be treated with respect and they should lead happy lives while they can, because they’re not very long. Maybe you should think about which is more important- showing off a dog who does great tricks, or having a happy and healthy dog.

    • peach
    • August 10, 2009

    I guess I am a mixed bag. I think that positive re-enforcement is a good thing. I also think there is nothing wrong with a bark collar. It is a very effective tool. And it works very quickly. I do think that at times a swift swat can do wonders. When the right behavior is done, reward is fine. Some of my dogs have been very hard headed(just like my kids,at times). All the smiley,sweet talk and worry about hurting the poor thing, just doesn’t work for me. My pets love me to death, and I them. But I do believe that a “Little” fear goes a long way. With children as well as dogs. With a little fear, they learn to give some respect.

    • blk_shee
    • August 10, 2009

    there are still situations and dogs where the rolled up newspaper is the most effective training tool. And there are other situations and dogs where it seems not to be.
    Seems to me the preferred training method ought to be whatever works for the person and the particular dog. If, instead of embracing an entire methodology we would look at them and learn from many…we’d be much more effective as trainers and as people.

    • ChrissyL
    • August 10, 2009

    Well most dogs, like mine are walking stomachs so I think thats where the idea came from, however you see alot more overweight dogs now than you did 10 or 20 years ago. Positive reinforcement works very well for some dogs. I really think “positive reinforcement” (in one way or another) is here to stay for at least a while as long as it is at all effective. I think more people should be trained themelves before getting a dog. Dog wouldnt misbehave if the owneres didnt let them. Get what I’m saying? LOL

    • Shepherdgirl §
    • August 10, 2009

    I have to agree with Torbay, it started about the same time as the no spanking kids movement and look at what that has gotten us, a bunch of badly behaved kids that do not know or understand what responsibilty is.
    Dog training should be fitted to the dog you have, there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to dog training.
    Beg and bribe does not work for all dogs.
    ETA: To Jackie G,
    A lot of dogs have devolped fear, aggression and injuries from traditional methods
    This is untrue, dog do not become aggressive because of training unless the training was unusually cruel, unjust and the dog did not understand what was expected, then the dog would come to fear the handler and become aggressive because it had no choice but this is not what is being discussed. If you were a knowledgeable dog trainer, you would know that all dogs do not react the same to every training method. Also, I just want to add that I do use corrections in my training and my dogs do not fear me, as a matter of fact, I have 5 shadows everywhere I go because they see me as the leader and they respect me. Dogs are not humans and they do not view things the same as a human would.

    • st.lady (1 of GitEm's gang)
    • August 10, 2009

    The tree huggers started it. When I was a teenager growing up, whenever my friends and I thought of getting in trouble. It wasn’t the police I was afraid of, it was my father. Hell, if I’d of gotten caught for some of the things I did when younger I would have begged the cops to keep me rather than send me home to him. It always made me think more than once. I have dogs that can reach over two hundred pounds. Talking to them wouldn’t work, Sometimes you have to let them know who’s boss.

    • a gal and her dog
    • August 10, 2009

    The most compelling argument I heard about this was concerning your dog chasing a cat or something – do you yell at it for running off or wait for it to come back and click? (My answer now is “neither” but it made sense then.)
    It will ebb and flow. People will get so sick of permissive parenting/dog ownership and start the beatings. It will ebb and flow. Both methods work, and I’m in the middle. I have more fun looking for things I like my dog to do, but there’s a time for “no.”

    • Kaebell
    • August 9, 2009

    I’m not sure when it became the preferred method, but here’s something I do know: These days, people have grown to love their dogs more than ever. And hitting your dog with an old newpaper would be like hitting their family. That’s probably why people consider it cruel. Yes, it probably will be the preferred mothod in the future as well.

    • greekman
    • August 9, 2009

    I think that asinine term started about 10 years a go and has grown out of proportion since then. I am not sure who started it and why, but, it has ruined more good dogs then I care to know. Most proponents of this idiocy have never run across a real dog that would eat their a s s rather then listen to their excuses, only dogs that had every ounce of work ethic and drive bred right out of them, so, they have to love it and “ignore” it when it does not act like they want to and acts like a dog instead. Look at some of the answers given here about dogs that are biting their owners and are terrorizing entire households. :Just love him more, never correct him and always remember that aggression breeds aggression”
    I am old school Ginbail, my dogs get trained to listen to me the first time, every time, period. They do not do it because they fear me, they do it because they respect me and realize who is in charge. They wear prong collars when training and Electric collars when training becomes more serious. They do not sit on my furniture and I do not have “talks” with them about their behavior. I will never correct a dog for not doing something that he does not know how to do, but, I will correct him, HARD, for not listening or disrespecting me when I know he knows how to do it and simply refuses to. I do not hit dogs unless my life is being threatend and I do not use undue force unless the dog shows me that he needs it. All of my dogs have been either certified in their fields of work or have gotten their titles in competition. I am not sure what the future trend will be, but, I really hope this “positive reinforcement’ is not it. Many more good dogs will be ruined if that continues.
    Watch how many thumbs down I get for this one.
    ADD: Thank you anne, I will gladly take them, from you or anyone else here who gives them to me. Did you bother reading all of the answers, or just mine? Did you read my ENTIRE post? I like having dogs that listen, I like having dogs that do a job and do it better then most dogs. I like having dogs that score high in competiton, as I do not compete for my health.
    ADD Again: Ginbail, my mother used to tell me when I was a little kid that “even the angels need something to be afraid of”.
    Add: To the dogs, I agree with you 100%.

    • Jackie
    • August 9, 2009

    Great question! I think there have always been people who don’t want to scare their dog into submission, who would rather have their dogs want to be near them. A lot of dogs have devolped fear, aggression and injuries from traditional methods
    The same is now true with humans dealing with their children, I got spanked when I was a child, and I didn’t like it. When I had children, I was not going to put them in that type of fear that I went through. I have never spanked my children, ever in 13 years being a mother. I don’t want my pets to live in fear either.
    A lot of people feel that their dog will not listen to them if they use positive methods, that is absolutely not true. I have tried choke collars and the “traditional methods”, and I can tell you as soon as I switched to positive methods, my dogs trust me more then ever and want to listen.
    Teaching “come” is a good example, people become angry at their dog if they don’t come right away. Then they scream at them COME, isn’t that like saying come get your beating?
    My dogs come to me about 90% of the time, because I make it a good thing to come to me, praise and sometimes a treat. And for the 10% of the time they don’t come, maybe they were distracted, or didn’t hear me. They are allowed to make mistakes too, just like we do. Do you say to someone” I need you to get me something” and expect them to drop everything and immediatly get it, or can they quickly finish and then get it? When my husband asks for something sometimes it takes me a minute to respond.
    Sometimes, I think we put too much pressure on our pets and we forget why we brought them into our lives.
    Try to think of it this way, would you rather have your spouse say, Make me dinner? or You are such a good cook, can you make that dish you make so well? I like positive reinforcement don’t you? It makes you feel good and gives you confidence.

    • August 9, 2009

    I think it started about the same time that spanking your kid became “cruel”. The world is so full of candy-a** idiots, that we have to consider everythings “feelings” first.
    Now, I am not for the rolled up newspaper per se, but the people that can’t stand to MAKE Fido behave make me sick. “I can’t get the doggie of the couch because he will bite me, so I lure him off with the biskie”. That is today’s “positive reinforcement”!!!!!!
    Of course you are going to be thought of as a dog “dominator” and not a dog “lover” if you use harsh methods!! That is how people think now days.
    I am not a fan of hitting a dog at all. Heck, my Newfies would pee themselves if I did that. But actually MAKING them do what you wnat, and maybe the odd ear pinch, is necessary.
    Many people that train with positive reienforcement are not TRAINING, they just BRIBE the dog to behave for the moment. Then they wonder why when the hand is empty, the dog doesn’t listen. What have they trained???? Nothing. They do the same with their kids. “Behave in the store and you cna have a toy”. If you are not going to give a toy…no behaving.
    That is my beef with “positive reienforcement”.

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