The Regina Humane Society emphasizes that animal training, behavior prevention strategies, and behavior modification programs should follow the scientifically based guidelines of learning theory, which includes positive reinforcement, operant conditioning, classical conditioning, desensitization, and counter conditioning. The RHS recommends training practices which focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors and removing the reinforcement for undesirable behaviors. Methods causing fear, pain, distress or anxiety are unacceptable.
Positive reinforcement should be the first line of teaching, training and behavior change program considered, and should be applied consistently. Positive reinforcement is associated with the lowest incidence of aggression, attention seeking, and avoidance/fear in learners. Modern scientifically-based training should emphasize teamwork and a harmonious relationship between animals and humans that fulfills both species’ needs. Most of all, it should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
As such, the Regina Humane Society supports the use of humane training methods that are based on and supported by current scientific knowledge of learning theory and animal behavior, including:
- Reward-based training methods which allow animals to work for things (e.g., food, play, affection) that motivates them rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors.
- Positive training methods that do not advocate the use of physical force or punishment. Alpha rolling, hitting, pushing, choke collars, pinch collars, shock collars and other methods/devices that have the potential for harm are not acceptable.
- Humane training tools and equipment (clickers, harnesses) that effectively accomplish the training objective with the least amount of stress for the animal.
Historically, training methods focused almost exclusively on the use of force and coercion to obtain the desired behavior. Animals trained using these methods often perform out of fear and anxiety. Based on research and evidence, there has been a shift towards reward-based methods of training, such as clicker training and the use of food, toys, praise, and other rewards as motivators. Animal behaviorists conclude that training techniques that employ punishment rather than rewards-based methods do not improve obedience and actually increase problematic behaviors.
Confrontational methods of training such as the use of physical force, rolling, growling, or staring down may increase the likelihood of aggressive responses. The use of shock collars is associated with short-term and long-term negative consequences including fear and anxiety. Training methods utilizing pain, fear, distress or anxiety, are to be condemned.
With respect to canines; there has been resurgence in using “dominance” and wolf behaviors as a factor in dog behavior and dog-human relationships. While wolves and dogs share some similarities in behavior, there are many more significant differences. Dog training and behavior modification strategies that rely primarily on misinterpretations of wolf behavior are therefore irrelevant, ineffective and can lead to serious negative complications.
The theory that dogs will attempt to dominate an owner supports training methods that respond with force and aggression. This only serves to create an adversarial relationship filled with miscommunication and even more misunderstanding. The unfortunate result is often anxiety, stress and fear in both dogs and humans towards each other. The use of techniques such as the “alpha roll” on dogs, which is based on these mistaken beliefs about dogs and wolves, has no place in modern dog training and behavior modification. Dogs often respond to this perceived threat with increased fear and aggression, which may serve to make a behavior problem worse and ruin the dog-owner relationship.
Physical or psychological intimidation hinders effective training and damages the relationship between humans and animals. Companion animals thrive in an environment that provides them with clear structure and communication regarding appropriate behaviors, and one in which their need for mental and physical stimulation is addressed. Techniques that create a confrontational relationship between animals and humans are outdated.
It is important to prevent the abuses and potential repercussions of unnecessary, inappropriate, poorly applied or inhumane uses of punishment. The potential effects of punishment can include aggression or counter-aggression; suppressed behaviors; increased anxiety and fear; physical harm; a negative association with the owner or handlers; and increased unwanted behavior, or new unwanted behaviors.
Positive Reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened by producing some desirable consequence.
Operant Conditioning is a form of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its consequences. Two complementary motivations drive operant conditioning: the maximization of positive outcomes and minimization of aversive ones.
Classical Conditioning is a form of learning in which one stimulus, the conditioned stimulus, comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus, the unconditioned stimulus.
Desensitization is the process of pairing positive experiences with an object, person, or situation that causes fear or anxiety.
Counter Conditioning is the conditioning of an unwanted behavior or response to a stimulus into a wanted behavior or response by the association of positive actions with the stimulus.
References and Resources:
- Hiby EF, Rooney NJ, and JWS Bradshaw. Dog training methods: their usefulness, effectiveness, and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare 2004: 13: 63-69.
- Herron ME, Shofer FS, and IR Reisner. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviours. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2009: 117: 47-54.
- Schilder MBH and JAM van der Borg. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2004: 85: 319- 334.
- American Humane Association (2001). Guide to Humane Dog Training. Englewood, Colorado, USA.
- Overall, K. (1997). Clinical behavioural medicine for small animals. Mosby-Year Book Inc. Missouri, USA.
- Tucker, M.T., ed. Professional Standards for Dog Trainers: Effective, Humane Principles. Delta
- Steven Lindsay, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training Vol 3 pgs. 29 & 726.
- Blackwell, Emily J., Twells, Seawright, & Casey, The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 3, Issue 5, September–October 2008, Pages 207-217, ISSN 1558-7878, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008.