US Service Animals – Our Guide to Positive Dog Training

In the past, more traditional methods of negative consequences and dominance have prevailed.

Today, punishments and scolding are often replaced by treats and other positive rewards. This science-based, research driven method is called “Positive Training”.

It can be traced back to Ivan Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory, showing that animals can learn to associate something neutral (such as a bell in Pavlov’s study) with a desired response. This means that animals can learn to associate a reward with a desired behavior.

Why Use Positive Dog Training?

Research shows that positive methods of puppy training not only work, but also actually result in a happier, better behaved dog. These methods are trusted by organizations that train service dogs, bomb detection dogs and search and rescue dogs.

It’s crucial that these dogs have proper and effective training for their important jobs. If these are the best ways to train dogs in such crucial roles, it makes sense that positive training will work best for your puppy too.

According to world-renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, there are four fundamental factors when it comes to dog training:

  • Use positive reinforcement. Positive training is recognized as the most effective, safe and humane way to train a dog.
  • Avoid using punitive methods. There is substantial evidence that negative reinforcement is less effective and more time consuming than positive methods, and can often result in more behavior problems.
  • Understand dominance. There’s a common misconception that dogs need to be shown who is dominant or the “alpha dog” in order to keep the appropriate balance between the owner and the pet. However, the need for dominance is rarely the case for misbehavior in most common breeds of dogs.
  • Use your dog’s perspective. Try to understand how your dog perceives the world around him in order to better understand and find solutions for behavior problems.

To begin using positive training, start with rewarding your dog’s desired behaviors and saying a command such as “sit” each time your dog sits. Immediately reward your dog with a treat or other positive reinforcement. Eventually, your dog will learn to perform the desired behavior on command.

While your dog is learning a new command, you can “shape” its behavior by rewarding behaviors that are close to the desired behavior, such as lifting a paw off the ground when trying to learn to shake hands. Gradually you will expect more from the dog and reward accordingly.

There are many ways to reward your dog including treats, praise, petting, outside play time, food, a game, or anything your dog likes and will become excited about.

It’s important that the reward is something the dog really wants. For example, if there is a treat your dog could take or leave, it probably isn’t a good option for positive training, even if it’s all you have on hand.

Tips for Positive Training

  • Be consistent with rewards-always reward your dog for positive behavior and never punish for bad behavior.

  • Always reward your dog immediately after it shows a desired behavior-don’t want until later and assume it will have the same effect.

  • Keep commands short and consistent. For example, always say “sit” if you want your dog to sit; don’t add words or use the word “sit” in a sentence, as this will confuse your dog. Make sure each person in the family is using the same commands.

  • Be careful not to reward bad behaviors. For example, if you let your dog outside because he is scratching at the door, this could reinforce the undesired behavior, as getting let out is seen as a reward.

Positive training is clearly the most effective and humane way to train your animal, and is backed by tons of evidence and research. Traditional punitive methods are less effective, more time consuming and often cause more problems with your pet.

Choose positive training for a safe and happy training experience for both you and your pet.