Recently, a blog post came out claiming that “pure positive” trainers responsible for the death of dogs internationally because they do not use consequence (punishment) in training. The post is riddled with incorrect terminology including the misnomer “pure positive” that the blog is centered around. It is also non-factual, opinion-based, with unsubstantiated claims. Unsurprisingly, it is receiving praise from equally uninformed “dog trainers”. The author is a dog trainer that holds no true academic education in animal behavior unlike the leading supporters and advocates of force-free training. The provocative claim that positive trainers are killing dogs with their training methods has no supporting data. Furthermore, the claim is solely supported by two anecdotal stories; one of which the dog was not euthanized which means half of his sample data is not in support of his claim and the other story is hearsay from online forum of a dog he never met. These are people that are ruining and killing our dogs with their uniformed biases and sensationalist claims that do not represent the true findings of research.
If we look at scientific studies we see that the literature strongly leads to the opposite conclusion; positive reinforcement based training is the most efficient form of training that leads to lasting results, keeps dog out of shelters, and is more humane and effective than punishment for training. It is effective for training simple pet obedience to severely advanced behavior problems and everything in between.
A popular study from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that implementing many of the methods “balanced” trainers teach and encourage cause the dogs to react aggressively. Confrontational methods such as leash jerking, alpha rolling, growling at, and staring down produced up to 40% of the dogs reacting aggressively while non-confrontational methods topped out at 6%, clicker training being at 0%. (Herron, 2009)
Remember, veterinary behaviorists work solely with the most aggressive, fearful, and severely behaviorally abnormal dogs. The methods they use are congruent with force-free methods and they continue to vehemently speak out against punishment in training while “balanced” trainers support their usage of abuse as necessary for extreme cases. If vet behaviorists are doing better then balanced trainers, with much harder cases, and using force-free methods then what is the remaining reason for the unnecessary punishment?
In fact, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior officially released a position statement against the use of punishment in animal trainer. Here is an important excerpt: Punishment can suppress aggressive and fearful behavior when used effectively, but it may not change the underlying cause of the behavior. For instance, if the animal behaves aggressively due to fear, then the use of force to stop the fearful reactions will make the animal more fearful while at the same time suppressing or masking the outward signs of fear; (e.g., a threat display/growling). As a result, if the animal faces a situation where it is extremely fearful, it may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs. In other words, it may now attack more aggressively or with no warning, making it much more dangerous.” Link to the full position statement
National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy found that behavioral problems, including aggression toward people or nonhuman animals, were the most frequently given reasons for canine relinquishment. (M.D, 2000) However, the chart above is from a study that found dogs trained by positive reinforcement methods only were least aggressive, least fearful, easiest to manage and control, and engaged in less demanding behaviors like excessive barking. (Blackwell, 2008). Thus force-free training keeps many dogs in their homes as happy and easy to manage members of the family while “balanced” training (positive reinforcement and punishment), which leads to a higher rate of reported behavior problems, is leading dogs to be relinquished to shelters and euthanized as most notably by this study. According to the results the “balanced” trained dogs were not only the most aggressive of the entire sample population but the biggest range in aggression occurs between “balanced” trained dogs and positive-only dogs.