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


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

Happy Easter!

We have beautiful weather in North Carolina. The greenery is showing up in full spring blooming, it remains relatively cool, and there’s plenty of people and dogs enjoying walks in the neighborhood. Despite the virus shutting down many of our normal holiday places, I’m hoping everyone can find some peace and happiness on this special day. Happy Easter!

– Dan Raymer

Starving a Dog is Not Part of Positive Reinforcement Training

Misinformation led to the idea that professional animal trainers utilizing treat rewards starve a dog prior to commencing a training session or program. Where did this idea originate? Some of the older operant conditioning experiments kept an animal hungry in order to increase motivation for food, although this was not true of all the experiments. Nor does this discredit the operant conditioning experiments, since we also have around 80 years of practical positive reinforcement training that did not use starvation or deprivation as a technique.

While deprivation of food makes sense, if you are hungry, you are going to have an increased motivation to obtain food, this is not part of a modern day dog training program.

Many dogs are hyper-motivated by food and treats at all times. Other dogs do not eat endlessly once they are full.

Taking advantage of times when dogs are hungry: before breakfast, before dinner, during a mid-day snack time, allows for increased motivation without food deprivation. This is smart training. If a dog does not earn enough rewards during the training session, he still receives the remaining amount of food afterwards. For example, you could get one final good behavior, reward it with all of the remaining food that would constitute a regular meal, and end the session.

In dogs that have more severe behavior, like a dog with fear aggression who bites people and isn’t overly motivated by food, we can use all of the dog’s meals as motivators/rewards. This is not a strategy to starve the dog, but does require the dog to receive his food in training sessions. Good trainers can manipulate these scenarios to achieve behavior results while caring for each individual dog’s welfare.


Three core steps to house-train your puppy or dog.

1. Reward

First, in order to increase the desired behavior (your puppy eliminating outdoors), you will need to reinforce the behavior. Accompany him outside and praise and reward with a treat after he goes.

It’s better to wait until he finishes completely, otherwise your praise might interrupt and prevent your puppy from emptying his bladder, but each time he does go, praise and reward. The more correct behaviors rewarded, the stronger the appropriate behavior will emerge.

2. Manage

Second, manage your puppy indoors by limiting his freedom around the house, essentially setting him up to have no opportunities to eliminate inside the home. This strategy should be done simultaneously with step one.

Since puppies are less likely to eliminate in their space (with food, water, toys, and bed), create an area with these things to restrict their movement around the house.

This can involve setting up a puppy proofed room, utilizing a crate, or “tethering” (having your puppy on a leash attached to a harness, following you around for the day – although this is a more passive strategy where the puppy could still go while next to you, if your attention is elsewhere.

3. Redirect

After a few weeks of implementing steps 1 and 2, then allow your puppy to have more freedom around the house, while you actively supervise, to give you the opportunity to observe when your puppy starts to eliminate, to interrupt and redirect him to go outside the home. Make sure to continue rewarding the desried behavior with treats.

It’s important to build up a history of rewarding your puppy for going in the appropriate place (step 1), and preventing opportunities for mistakes inside (step 2), before working on step 3. If you start with step 3, it can scare your puppy, and lead to your puppy avoiding going while you are around. Instead your puppy will find secret places hidden from your view to go, making it more difficult to house-train.

Any questions? Let us know in the comment section below.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Learning and Training Your Dog from Home

As the current virus pandemic spreads, our institutions are shutting down or people are self-quarantining (probably a good thing to decrease contamination as much as possible).

The good news: if you need dog training help, we have an online dog and puppy training class, and just recently upgraded our distance consulting services, where you can get help by phone and email. See the links below to learn more.

Dog and Puppy Training Class

Distance Consultations

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information

Here is a bit of good news from the CDC:

“CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”

I hope everyone stays safe.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS