Is Positive Reinforcement the only humane method for dog training?
Some assert that training with Positive Reinforcement is the only “humane” approach to training a dog. Without delving into the validity of that claim just yet,
I want to emphasize that I’ve never observed a dog successfully trained without the application of some form of punishment.
Many individuals who strive to employ a more positive (humane) training approach, and possess sufficient knowledge, readily acknowledge utilizing two quadrants of Operant Conditioning principles—Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. Both involve the addition and removal of rewards. This is what I meant when stating that I haven’t witnessed a dog trained without some form of punishment.
Is Negative Punishment the only humane type of punishment?
There’s a prevailing belief that Negative Punishment is gentler (more humane) than other forms of punishment.
I disagree; a crucial consideration when evaluating the impact of Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment is the value of the reward to the dog.
Offering a food reward or withdrawing the same reward when the dog lacks motivation has no reinforcing or punishing effect. Consequently, no training occurs, regardless of how many repetitions are attempted. One million times 0 still equals 0.
While many dogs may perform well within this framework at home or a familiar training club, they might struggle elsewhere or when other dogs or people are present.
Training stalls or fails because the food reward loses its value, having no impact on the dog’s behavior. This can extend to the trainer or handler, who may accept that their dog won’t accept food in certain situations.
For some dogs, the addition of a reward yields a potent effect, suggesting that losing that reward will also have a powerful punishing effect.
This powerful punisher might initially manifest through Negative Punishment (loss of expected reward), but the residual impact may be felt through the stress hormone Cortisol, lasting a considerable duration.
Therefore, it might be deemed more “humane” to employ a different form of punishment for training modification—one that doesn’t exert such a powerful influence on the dog. This concept can be challenging for some individuals to comprehend or accept.