The importance of positive reinforcement in animal training
As most animal lovers have heard by now, Cesar Millan is under investigation for animal cruelty due to introducing a French bulldog-terrier mix to three pigs, despite the dog having a history of attacking pot-bellied pigs. What happened? The dog attacked the pigs, and drew blood, of course.
I recently read a journal article by the Huffington Post which talks about the need for major changes within the animal training industry. The article can be found here. I completely agree with this article, and believe behaviourists and trainers who practice traditional techniques need to re-evaluate their methods. However, I should point out that the majority of animal trainers in the UK no longer follow these traditional methods.
I wanted to talk about the importance of positive reinforcement when training animals. This involves rewarding positive behaviours rather than punishing bad behaviours.
So, you're walking your dog on a lead and it starts barking at another dog as it walks past. What should you do? Well, absolutely nothing. A reaction will cause your dog to pull and bark even more, So just keep walking as long as there is no risk of injury, and don't tell your dog off!
However, if your dog doesn't react when you walk past, praise them! He or she has done a fantastic job, and needs to know. The same goes in many situations. Barking for you to throw the ball? Ignore the barking, and make them work for the ball by asking them to sit. Eventually, the barking will be replaced by sitting, and your eardrums won't hurt anymore!
The more you praise and reward good behaviour, the more the animal will repeat the behaviour. Just because it doesn't work the first time, doesn't mean you should give up either.