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Sensible Dog Training: What Works And What Doesn't

October 02, 2017

Sensible Dog Training: What Works And What Doesn't

Dog training techniques typically fall into one of two contrasting categories - those that are rooted in reward and those that are rooted in punishment. Even if you have only taken a cursory glance at dog training techniques, you will likely recognize examples of these two approaches to training.

Reward-Based Training

Reward-based, or positive-only, training involves rewarding desired behavior with food or a toy. This form of training also often incorporates elements of classical conditioning - a method of behavior modification in which an additional sound or cue is paired with the reward to further reinforce good behavior.


Following is a more detailed example of how reward-based training may be used:

First, you wait for your dog to perform the desired behavior (i.e. performing a trick, learning to sit, etc). Once your dog properly performs this behavior, you reward him or her with a treat while you also deliver the paired sound or cue (This cue may take the form of a voice command like “Good Boy”).

Trainers also regularly use a clicker device - a small metal or plastic tab that makes a clicking sound when pressed - to produce this paired sound).

Over time, your dog will learn to associate the desired behavior with a reward and will be encouraged to perform that behavior. Further, your dog will also associate the paired sound or cue with a reward to such an extent that you will be able to use that sound to encourage desired behavior without even using a treat (the original reward).

Punishment-Based Training

In comparison to reward-based training, punishment-based training involves discouraging undesired behavior with your facial expressions, body language, voice, hands, or other similar reaction. This form of training aims to teach your dog that there are negative consequences for particular behaviors and discourage him or her from performing those behaviors in the future.

In attempting to discourage bad behaviors, some individuals take this form of training too far. They punish their dogs in excessively harsh and harmful ways - hitting, yelling, or using painful choke or shock collars.


Research shows that this more extreme form of punishment is far less effective than other training techniques and that it may actually trigger more problematic behaviors (aggression, fear, separation anxiety, etc).

The key to using punishment effectively is to avoid excessively harsh and harmful consequences. Instead discourage undesirable behavior with a firm “No!” command, with a dissatisfied facial expression and body language, or by removing a reward.

Finding A Sensible Solution For Training

At first, the concepts of reward and punishment seem to naturally oppose one another. However, by weaving elements of these two concepts together you can create a balanced style of training that is even more effective than either reward-based, or punishment-based, training alone.


The best form of training will teach your dog that that are both positive and negative consequences for his or her behaviors. It will encourage desired behaviors, while also discouraging undesired behaviors. Further, when you are highly consistent with your training (rewarding positive behaviors and discouraging negative behaviors) your dog will learn to rely on your guidance and respect you as the “alpha dog”.

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