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Why is progressive reinforcement the best way to train?

Why is progressive reinforcement the best way to train?

Progressive Reinforcement Training essentially means teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors and excluding the intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.

Well first off, my motto for training comes from the bible. In Matthew 7:12 it says “In everything, do to others as would have them do to you; for this is the law of the prophets.”

This should be something we consider every day when training our pets, how would you want to be treated yourself? Would you want to be yanked by a prong collar when doing something wrong or rewarded with treats when doing something right? I would choose being rewarded over punished in a second!

When using positive reinforcement, you are showing the dog how you want him to act. When punishing the dog for the wrong behaviors, this causes them to lose trust in you and respect as well. The dog might respond, but out of fear of the punishment. After all, isn’t a dog’s main goal in life to make us happy? So if you teach him how you want him to behave and what makes you happy, he will continue to do these behaviors in the future.   This confirms that when using only positive methods, your dog is behaving because they want to and are happy to, not because they are afraid of what might happen if they don’t.

Since dogs are programmed to work for humans, no punishment is needed to teach a dog what is right. When your dog does something wrong, simply interrupt this behavior by getting their attention and re-directing their behavior. This is called the Positive Interrupter (which I will be making a post about very soon). So instead of scolding your dog, simple distract them and show them what they are supposed to be doing. This will allow them to learn quickly what you want them to do instead.

Here are some many reasons to refrain from using intimidation methods quoted from this article on progressive reinforcement training:

1) Without perfect timing, intensity, and consistency, the “training” amounts to nothing more than abuse.
2) The animal learns to avoid the punisher in order to indulge in undesirable behavior.
3) These techniques can cause irreversible emotional damage to the animal.
4) The punishment can increase stress hormones, arousal, and aggression.
5) Animals can habituate to the punishment – meaning that the intensity of the punishment must keep increasing to have any effect as the animal learns to endure it.
6) You cannot change an animal’s basic emotional response to find children, adults, or other animals (or anything for that matter) reinforcing by using intimidation; you can only suppress the dog’s punished behaviors.
7) Intimidation can cause dogs to hide their warning signs before attempting to bite.
8) Dogs trained with punishment can feel trapped by their handlers, since the decision to leave a ‘stay’ or to leave the handler’s side (to escape from a bothersome child, for example) can cause punishment.  Animals who feel they have no escape tend to bite rather than move away.
9) Intended intimidation can actually increase the behavior you wish to extinguish, as intimidation involves giving a form of attention to an animal.
10) The presence of the punisher becomes less reinforcing for the animal.  If you punish your dog using intimidation, it is harder to compete with the reinforcement value of other things in the environment.  Your dog will find other stimuli in the environment more reinforcing than you as the dog increasingly associates you with punishment rather than reward.
11) Dogs who have been trained with physical or psychological intimidation do not offer behaviors on their own as readily when asked, making complex behaviors difficult to train
12) Handlers who use intimidation as punishment will punish their animals more readily in the future as punishment is rewarding to the handlers themselves (they get the result they wanted- hitting a dog made it stop barking, so they will be more likely to hit the dog in the future).  In other words, using physical or psychological intimidation causes one’s own behavior patterns to change.

There can always be rare emergency situations where you need to take action and remove the dog from the situation rather then screaming, hitting, ect. Hitting, screaming, ect. will only escalate the dog when he is at the level of attacking.

I hope that this has informed you on why punishment, or other intimidation training techniques can be detrimental and how progressive reinforcement training is the way to go. If you have any questions please ask them! After all, I know this is a very debatable subject. Remember, keep it positive!


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