I have lately been reading a lot of very passionate arguments against the use of strictly reinforcement-based training.  I take this to mean that people who are using +R methods are doing so in large enough numbers to start to cause the dominant paradigm to shift.

In a rant against ‘purely positive’ methods (as applied to herding), one of the discussants argued that punishment is not only ok but necessary, because our “dogs live in a world of ‘no’.”

I thought this was quite poignant. And true.

We are constantly telling our dogs what they cannot do. What we don’t want them to do. What they’re not allowed to do. When they are bad. When they are wrong.
The more I move away from this model of training, the more I notice it in other people. Punitive language and interaction with our canine companions is so normalized that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it.  People come to my house, for example, and immediately start correcting my dogs. They almost always say “no” or express some other form of negative, telling the dog what they don’t want it to do (usually “don’t jump up”). It almost never occurs to people to tell my dogs what TO do (“down you get!”).
It’s quite fascinating. It’s also sad.

The more I study learning behavior and dog training, the more parallels I find myself drawing with our human education system, and our social systems in general. We live in an incredibly punitive world. We are constantly punished for trying anything new, anything out of the norm. If not socially reprimanded, then typically economically so. More often than not, both.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this. My brain just keeps ruminating on the subject, and noting more and more examples to support this overarching observation. Reading that angry rant against R+ training on a site I regularly interact with left me needing to find an outlet for my thinking. And that forum was not the outlet.

I’m left wondering what kind of world we’d have if we could make the shift to a more positive, rewards-based way of interacting with one another. Not just in dog training, but in our schools, our work environments, and every day life.  I wonder…