Positive Reinforcement Training Saves Dogs

Trainers who use unsafe training techniques (force-training, balanced training consisting of harsh corrections, usually with but not limited to choke chains, prong collars, and remote shock collars), often times spread disinformation. One of these core messages they use to discourage people from using positive reinforcement training methods is the claim that reward-trainers kill dogs. This is an egregious myth.

I personally have never recommended any dog be euthanized, nor do I ever intend to. This is because my dog training works using humane training methods. It works for behaviors that are quick to change and for more challenging, serious behaviors like reactivity, fear, and aggression. In fact, it really is the only type of training that works while taking care of the dog’s mental and physical health to the highest ability possible. Receiving a toy reward, or treat reward cannot harm a dog, whereas correction training leads to physical damage – like destroying the dog’s trachea from collar corrections, or burns from shock collars, or mental harm from fear of punishment.

Many animal shelters and rescues use humane training methods, while euthanizing certain dogs for problems they deem untreatable – this usually means for medical reasons (the dog is too sick and in too much pain), or behavioral reasons (severe forms of aggression, which make it unsafe to release the dogs for adoption and into the community). These are special cases, as these organizations are either limited in funds and staff (and function as an open admissions shelter, so even euthanize due to lack of kennel space at times, or they are limited admission, meaning they don’t have to take in all animals, and thus usually function as a “No-Kill” shelter, which means they have a live release rate of 90+%). So if these are the types of cases they are using to try to push the narrative reward training kills dogs, it is a poor argument. This is more of a resources and policy issue (including factors such as time, staff, qualified trainers working for the shelter, state laws, etc.) than it has anything to do with training methods. It is also ignoring the fact that many dogs have these serious behaviors due to force-training methods and mistreatment in the first place. Here is one example study of many that exist: “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.”

In addition, there are dogs with medical issues that cause behavior problems. For example, dogs with brain tumors may end up displaying aggressive behavior. The aggression can not be fixed by any training method. The only thing that will fix it will be to treat the brain tumor – and whether that is possible depends on the specific details of each case. This means treating the cause, not the symptoms that show up in a dog’s behavior.

If your trainer, regardless of what type of training methods he/she uses, tells you to euthanize your dog immediately over the phone without getting all the relevant information, or without conducting an in-person behavior evaluation, then he/she is most likely not qualified to professionally deal with your dog’s behavior problem. And even with those details covered, a second opinion is likely needed. Dogs that have bitten do not have to be euthanized. Good, competent positive reinforcement training can help your dog, and in conjunction with a reward-based veterinary behaviorist, if needed (i.e., the behavior is caused by a pathological condition).

There is almost always an alternative to euthanizing a dog for behavior reasons. Most aggressive behaviors are contextual, so removing the dog from those specific situations or triggers can prevent the behavior from occurring. And doing things to prevent dogs from ending up with dangerous aggressive behaviors in the first place, should be our starting point. Check out these factors that are present in most human fatalities from dog bites, and dog bite prevention information. Avoid correction, harsh punishment, force and balance training methods. Instead use positive reinforcement/reward-based training methods to save dogs’ lives.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

References

Herron, M., Shofer, F., & Reisner, I. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117 (1-2), 47-54

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