Once you adopt a dog, the need to train it follows. While there is no doubt that training is essential, there is no consensus on the right way to do it. Different trainers recommend different approaches, with plenty of arguments in favor of their own methods. Even individual owners develop their own ways, and vouch by their effectiveness. But whatever the method used, it can be categorized either as negative reinforcement or as positive reinforcement.
It basically means encouraging good behavior with rewards and display of pleasure and affection. It is based on the belief that the dog is as interested in developing a kinship with its owner as the owner is in bonding with the dog. The dog values its owner’s attention and love, and wants to please him. It quickly learns what it is expected to do without any unpleasantness.
When rewards such as small treats or hugs are given at the right moment, it kindles the pleasure centers in the dog’s brain. As it wants the same experience to be repeated, it will be eager to obey the owner and learn more ways to please him. Learning in an environment of love and appreciation, the dog comes to trust the owner. It makes the dog stable because it does not feel threatened at any point. The greatest advantage of positive reinforcement is that it prevents the development of unsavory behaviors, such as aggression and unpredictability, which usually stem from fear.
This is the old school technique in dog training. Making the dog obedient through creating fear for the owner is the philosophy behind it. Various ways of inflicting pain, such as hitting the dog with a stick, applying electric shock, or using choke chains, are employed. Yelling and shouting at the dog is also negative reinforcement. When the dog is punished promptly when it misbehaves, it may shy away from repeating the offence for fear of pain and displeasure. The dog invariably submits to the will of the owner, but it is out of fear not trust. Certain ferocious breeds and some situations may warrant this kind of training, but it makes the dog unpredictable, especially when the authority of the owner is weakened. It also increases its aggression.
Most people adopt dogs for the companionship and unconditional love it offers. When a dog is treated with affection, it reinforces its natural affinity for human company because it starts considering its owner and his family as members of its pack. Positive reinforcement technique is thus preferred for training family dogs. It makes them behave without any aggression. A happy and well adjusted dog in the house is definitely better than having a dog that obeys only out of fear.
Animal behaviorists advocate avoiding negative reinforcements because they do not teach the dogs anything other than fear of punishment and pain. The submission of the dog is temporary and unpredictable. Different breeds respond differently to negative experiences. While some act lethargic, and shy away from people, others become overly aggressive. There’s a constant battle of wills going on, and many dogs with a wilder nature may look out for weaknesses in the owner to defy him.
By and far positive reinforcements should be used to inculcate desirable behavior in dogs. Though some situations call for negative reinforcements to drive home a point, punishments should be used sparingly, and as a last resort only.