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Natural Awakenings San Diego

If Your Dog Could Talk: Reward vs. Punishment Dog Training

Dec 28, 2011 01:45PM ● By Linda Michaels

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

There’s a raging controversy in the field of dog training centered around training methods and collars—reinforcement versus correction/treat versus no treats. If your dog could talk, your dog would ask you to listen to the experts. As it turns out, it’s scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog.

In a consensus article, Good Trainers: How to Identity One, the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) states clearly that shock or prong collars and choke collars should be avoided “because they increase fear and anxiety.” It specifically recommends “no pop and jerk.” The article outlines behavioral and psychological drawbacks of punitive methods and equipment: “There are many pitfalls of punishment; it ruins relationships, inhibits desirable learning, doesn’t tell the pet what to do, and increases aggression and arousal.” These veterinarians recommend “bite-sized treats, harnesses and praise” as superior training tools.

Scores of animal behavior experts in the scientific community and humane organizations have spoken out on the reward versus punishment debate. Behaviorists from The American Humane Association to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists concur that using intimidation and pain-based methods to prevent or manage behavior can actually worsen existing behavior.

So, why is punishment-oriented training so widespread and popular? Well, there’s a charismatic TV trainer whose sensation-driven show warns viewers, “Don’t try this at home.” Additionally, shock, prong and choke collars are marketed in every big box store, assuring buyers that they’re safe, acceptable and “won’t hurt your dog.” The language of “stimulation” and “tickle” can mislead innocent pet parents. Shock collar training is still legal in the U.S. and there’s a great deal of money to be made on pet products. It works in the moment, but doesn’t create lasting change or address underlying problems.

Shock collars were recently banned for dog training in Wales and are illegal in Italy, Denmark , Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and many parts of Australia. States such as Connecticut have banned their use by private trainers and severely restricted their use by facilities.

If you think of your pet as member of your family, think of your dog as a two-year-old for life. Reward-based learning is what we should use with our children and with our companion animals, if we want relationships built on trust and love rather than on dominance and fear.

Contact Linda Michaels, dog psychologist, speaker and Victoria Stilwell-licensed dog trainer, at 858.259.9663 or email at [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations. Also visit

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