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Differentiating Between Positive Reinforcement And Alpha Dog Training Methods

Positive Reinforcement Dog TrainingThere has been considerable debate in recent years over the appropriate methods of dog training. More specifically, there seems to be a notable difference of opinion between the merits of alpha dog training practices (also known as dominance theory or aversive training) versus positive reinforcement dog training.

The two methods basically promote diametrically opposite approaches to dog training:

Positive Reinforcement

  • Uses rewards to recognize and show approval of positive responses
  • Aligns with natural instincts of the dog such as eating and playing

Alpha Dog/Aversive Training

  • Emphasizes punishment for bad behaviour/non-responsive behaviour
  • Goal is to have dog become submissive to its human (alpha) leader
  • Has a militant-based aspect – rank, dominance, intimidation tactics

While both methods will have their supporters and detractors, recent literature as well as public opinion seem to be leaning more in the direction of positive reinforcement dog training. The benefits of using this reward and recognition approach for the dog and/or the dog owner consist of:

  • Developing mutual respect within the dog-and-owner relationship
  • Establishing communication in a common language (verbal, non-verbal)
  • Helping the dog build confidence in its ability to please/behave as expected
  • Making learning fun for the dog and the entire family

It is also very important to note that positive reinforcement dog training should not be associated with bribery tactics i.e. using/giving the reward first in order to encourage the dog to behave/react in an appropriate manner. The reward or recognition must be given immediately after the dog has demonstrated the correct action or behaviour and it should also be proportionate to the accomplishment – a small treat or an affectionate rub under the chin would suffice for a proper response to a basic obedience command.

While positive reinforcement dog training appears to have gained the upper hand in an overall sense, there may still be circumstances where alpha dog methods will at least warrant some consideration. Such situations may include training for dog competitions (agility trials, obstacle courses, obedience trials) or the need to permanently stop a specific bad behaviour by the dog.

Avoid These Pitfalls When Using Positive Or Aversive Dog Training

While positive reinforcement dog training certainly has its merits, those who choose to employ this approach when training their dogs should be cautious of some inherent pitfalls that may result in ineffective or unsuccessful outcomes/behaviours.

Actions or inactions to avoid would be:

  • Leaving too much time between training sessions – dog may lose interest/focus
  • Using bribery or excessive treating – dog will be responding for the wrong reason
  • Not giving the reward immediately – treat not associated with the right behaviour
  • Inconsistent application – could create an atmosphere of permissiveness/leniency

Similarly, there can be several potentially detrimental aspects to alpha dog or aversive training techniques. These would include:

  • Instilling feelings of fear/anxiety/stress in dog – may lead to over-aggression
  • Punishes wrong behaviours only – does not demonstrate proper responses
  • Repeatedly subjects dog to unpleasant stimuli – alpha roll, scruff shake, cuffing
  • Dog may become desensitized/withdrawn, straining the dog-owner relationship

If you are tentative about your time and abilities to implement training with your dog or just uncertain about both methods in general, you may want to rely on the understanding and expertise of a professional dog training service such as Alpha Paws. Our intuition will guide you in selecting the best dog obedience training program for your pet, while our experienced trainers can implement that program to achieve the maximum benefit for you and your dog.

To gain a better understanding of the various dog training methods available and discuss the option that is right for you and your dog, call the specialists at Alpha Paws today at either 905-830-9500 or 1-877-868-7297 and ask for your complimentary assessment.

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