- Classical Conditioning: It Rings A Bell
- Operant Conditioning: Four Quadrants of Training
- Positive Reinforcement: Doing The Right Thing
- E-Collar Training: Shock and Vibration Collars
- Alpha Theory - An Outdated Idea
- Nothing In Life Is Free
- Clicker Training
- Which is Best Dog Training Method for Me?
With so many different types of dog training out there, it can be difficult to figure out what each kind of training entails and how well it works in different situations, or will different dogs. This article will cover the different types of major training styles out there, how they work, the theory behind them, and whether or not they are supported by scientific research. There are two types of theory, and five types of training we will be covering.
The two types of theory are Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning, which inform the method behind the types of training. The types of training are Positive Reinforcement, E-Collar Training, Alpha/Dominance Theory, as well as short overview of Clicker Training and NILIF, which you can click the links at for our full articles regarding those. Each section will also rate the effectiveness of each kind of training, and why it works or why it does not work.
It is important to remember that any sort of dog training styles or methods should be discussed with a professional dog trainer, both for the safety of your pet and you.
You might want to read: Top 10 Best Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Books
Classical Conditioning: It Rings A Bell
Classical Conditioning is the most basic form of training or theory when it comes to any living thing. You may have heard or read about Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who was responsible for a great deal of study on Classical Conditioning. His experiment went like this: feed a dog at the same time as you rang a bell near the dog, so the taste and the sound would occur at the same time. Eventually, as the dogs related the sound and the taste together, he would ring the bell alone, but the dogs would still begin to salivate at the sound of the bell. He has successfully caused a new subconscious result in the dogs, causing them to salivate from a stimulus they had not reacted to before.
This theory is simple to understand and follow, and is the driving force behind things such as PTSD. An outside stimulus, such as a sight, noise, smell, or event, causes a reaction in an organism that they would not normally have due to the association build between the two. For dog training, this is applied for many basic behaviors and actions, both on purpose an accidentally. For example, a dog hears a doorbell, and begins to bark, as the doorbell always means someone is at the door to bark out. The first time a dog hears the bell, they have no reason to bark, but as they realize the doorbell means that there is someone there, they are conditioned to bark. This is also applies to a dog coming to you when they hear the fridge open, or disliking certain objects that they were around when something bad happened to them. This can be manipulated both positively and negatively, as we will cover.
Seen here, Ivan Pavlov has a device that measures the saliva produced by a dog when it hears a bell. This is one of the few photos from his research.
Operant Conditioning: Four Quadrants of Training
Operant Conditioning is much more complicated than your basic Classical Conditioning. This type of conditioning was heavily studied by B.F. Skinner, and he is considered the major creator and contributor to the method. He studied Reinforcers and Punishers, two outside stimuli that either promote or suppress a behavior. Skinner boxes were designed and tested on rats, to see how they react to specific stimuli in both positive and negative ways. While Classical Conditioning focuses on the subconscious, Operant Conditioning focuses on conscious actions that the individual can choose to take. There are four quadrants to Operant Conditioning:
1. Positive Reinforcement
This quadrant focuses on rewarding a liked behavior by giving the dog a treat, attention, or any other object or action they see as positive. Giving the dog a train when they sit down, or rewarding them for not barking at the doorbell are forms of this. This is the most effective and commonly used method for teaching a dog cues and behaviors, and is backed by hundreds of papers and research hours as a proven and effective method.
2. Negative Punishment
This quadrant focuses on removing a positive when a dog does something incorrect. Instead of reprimanding the dog, a positive is simply removed instead. While the term ‘Negative Punishment’ sounds bad, it is actually the second most effective form of operant conditioning for dogs. Example of this would include walking a dog away from someone it wants to see if it barks or jumps, or no longer allowing a dog in a room of the house where it goes to the bathroom in an unwanted manner. It focuses on redirection, rather than reprimanding or retribution.
3. Positive Punishment
This quadrant focuses on punishing the dog through physical force when a mistake is made. Swatting, shocking, alpha rolls, or physical restraint any time a dog does something incorrectly is what Positive Punishment entails, as you are adding a punishment to the dog. This has been proven not only incredibly ineffective at training dogs, it can also result in severe injury to the animal, as well as increasing the dog’s aggression to the point that bites become incredibly frequent. While this has been popularized by some big name trainers in media, due to the ‘fast results’, in fact has no scientific backing and commonly results in injury to the pet parent or dog.
4. Negative Reinforcement
This quadrant focuses on removing something painful from the dog when a proper action is performed. This includes putting a shock collar on a dog and letting it buzz until the dog walks in line, or letting a dog up from a pin once it stops growling or barking. This is the second quadrant that is proven incredibly ineffective in dog training, and almost always results in a terrified, timid dog that is too nervous to do much at all. When the dog refuses to do anything, this is often mistaken for a ‘well-trained dog’, but in reality it is just an animal that is too fearful to do anything due to the possible pain or fear that would be inflicted upon it.
Positive Reinforcement: Doing The Right Thing
The Positive Reinforcement style of training has multiple names, such as Force-Free and R+. This style focuses on two quadrants of Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. At no point is a dog ever stuck, reprimanded, or put through anything that results in fear or pain, in order to build a good relationship with the dog, and teach them in a safer manner.
This is the most scientifically proven method of dog training out there – hundreds of studies, reviews, and training classes show that this is the best way to teach any dog. This training relies on the dog doing cues because they enjoy listening, and know that doing a command or cue is the best thing for them, mentally and physically, because they want to please their owner. No force is used, instead rewarding a dog for a job well done, and redirecting a dog who is behaving incorrectly. One excellent rule is followed by removing unwanted behaviors: If a dog cannot behave in a situation, they are not allowed in that situation.
To give a few examples of how the quadrants work for Positive Reinforcement training, take a look at a new puppy who does not know any cues or learned behaviors yet. First is Positive Reinforcement. If you wanted a puppy to use the bathroom outside, you would wait until they go to the bathroom in the yard, then praise them and pet them for doing it in the right spot. They would then associate going to the bathroom outside with a positive, and want to take that action instead of the action that gets them no reward, which is going inside. For Negative Punishment, a puppy that is nipping and biting during playtime and is too rough has to stop playing for a bit. Either the pet parent leaving or the puppy having to walk away from the playmate would be examples of Negative Punishment, as the positive thing the puppy wants is taken away.
E-Collar Training: Shock and Vibration Collars
For E-Collar training, a great deal of Negative Reinforcement and Positive Punishment is used to deter the dog from an unwanted behavior through fear and pain. The basic idea of E-Collars is to emit an electric shock, vibration, or citronella spray onto the dog, making the dog associate the action with a negative. There are two main issues with this method, and why bark collars are one of the most returned items to stores.
The first issue is that dogs do not think the same way people do. Unlike what many people think, dogs do not experience guilt. What many people think is guilt is just an association with a situation with their owner being angry. They do not understand that being on the couch is bad, they understand that if they are on the couch and their owner is near, they will feel an electric shock from the collar. This does not prevent the dog from being on the couch when the owner is not present, or when the collar is off, resulting in a failure in training, and a possibly fearful dog that refuses to be near its owner for fear of being shocked.
The second issue goes into the lack of obedience when the collar is not present. A malfunctioning collar, a lack of proper use, or the collar coming off results in a dog that no longer obeys or listens. They do not learn to listen to their person, they learn to not disobey when the collar is on. The same goes for things like shake cans and spray bottles – the dog only learns to avoid the object. Imagine an alarm that goes off whenever it wants, and you have to hit snooze for over and over. That is a dog that only listens when the negative object is present – no fun for the owner, or the dog. Shock Collars are an ineffective method of obedience training.
Alpha Theory - An Outdated Idea
A theory that came about due to a study on wolves, Alpha Theory is the idea that dogs are a pack animal and need to be subjugated into a role under humans, making the owner the ‘Pack Alpha.’ This involves a lot of physical punishment and force, including pinches, pins, rolls, and kicks. Originally distilled from Rudolph Schenkel, a scientist that wrote about wolves in 1947, Alpha Theory has been the subject of dozens of studies and tests. All of these studies have resulted in one consensus: Alpha Theory is wrong.
The original study was done on a group of wolves from different groups and packs, all forced into a small enclosure in a time when almost no studies on wolves had been done at all. When the animals naturally fought, being forced into a poor enclosure and with no previous interaction, it was mistakenly thought they were fighting only for dominance, rather than stress. Eventually, Schenkel released work saying that the study was extremely flawed, and his hypothesis was incorrect.
Further bolstered by commercial trainers latching onto the idea, and the thought of being the ‘Pack Leader’ spreading to many inexperienced pet owners, Alpha Theory is one of the better known dog training methods. The idea behind Alpha Theory is that the dog must obey you, because you are higher on the social ranking than it. Aggression is one of the biggest results of this, as dogs are shown that growling, barking, and other language that is a precursor to a bite gets them nothing. In turn, they stop showing signs and immediately begin to lash out and bite immediately, causing injury in the owner and abandonment of the dog.
It should also be noted, that in many countries now, shock and prong collars are illegal, and considered animal abuse in those countries. Using one in places like the UK lead to a jail time if caught. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and parts of Australia also ban use of these collars. Many American groups like the SPCA have vowed to never use these, and are seeking bans in the United States now, putting out adverts such as the one below to try and spread the message.
Nothing In Life Is Free
A type of middle ground that asks for performance and obedience through purely positive actions, NILIF training is great for pet parents who can stay strict, but kind to their dog. Check out our full article here.
A subset of Positive Reinforcement, Clicker training is an advanced form of training that is based on fast, constant rewards and confirmation of correct actions to teach advanced cues and behaviors. Check out our full article here.
Which is Best Dog Training Method for Me?
When it comes to dog training, it is best to stick with what is proven to work. Positive Reinforcement is the more studied and scientifically based training method, so that or NILIF are excellent choices. Clicker Training works as a fantastic supplement to this, as well. While some trainers may swear by E-Collars, the ability to instantly see and punish a behavior with 100% accuracy is nearly impossible. Alpha Theory is outdated, and proven to result in an aggressive or fearful dog. Talk to a local trainers to find out the method that may work the best for you.