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Positive Reinforcement Training and a “Strong” Dog

Jambo the Staffie and Tessa the GSD

You have a “strong” dog so you must need to use lots of force to control them, right?   Wrong.

Using positive reinforcement is not only based on science, it is also a fast, effective and fun way of teaching your dog new behaviors. It establishes a pattern of learning and trust allowing you to bond more deeply with your dog. You can increase desired behaviors and decrease unwanted ones. Positive reinforcement training uses rewards not force.

Many behavioral problems can be solved by channeling your dog’s energy into something constructive.  Is your dog constantly getting himself into trouble? Jambo the Staffie Bull Terrier Trick Dog Champion is very mischievous and has bundles of energy, but working with him to learn new “tricks” helps to use up some of this energy while, at the same time, creating new positive behaviors. I put the word “tricks” in inverted commas as even behaviors like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “come”, “leave it” etc. are taught as “tricks”.

As you may already know, Jambo is the first Staffordshire bull terrier to achieve the title of Trick Dog Champion. He achieved this title at just 16 months old. I think you could say that Jambo is a typical “Bully” – he has a lot of energy. He was a very “nippy” puppy and he was also the ultimate thief – his favorite game was “snatch, grab, run and destroy”. How did we go from this to him being a Trick Dog Champion? The answer is simple – I use rewards.

All dogs (in fact all animals) learn in the same way. They repeat behaviors they find rewarding and they avoid doing things that they find unpleasant.  You can therefore train with rewards or punishment. You can reward them for walking on a loose leash (reinforce the behavior you like and want to see more of) or you can punish them with a choke, prong or e-collar. If you choose the punishment route, it may work, but at what cost to your dog’s physical and mental well-being and at what cost to your relationship? Why train with force, pain and fear when you can train with rewards?

Jambo, Trick Dog Champion – trained completely force-free

Some people mistakenly believe that “strong” dogs need a “strong” hand.  There is lots of talk about being your dog’s “pack leader”; about not letting them “dominate” you; that you need to have the physical strength to be able to handle one of these dogs; that you need to “keep them in their place” and “show them who is boss”; and that you have to be a certain sort of person to “own” one of these dogs. I have got to admit that when I read a lot of the “training” advice written about “strong” breeds it makes me despair.

I have had the pleasure of being “guardian” to a Doberman, two Staffordshire bull terriers and a German shepherd dog. I was brought up with German shepherds, border collies and Chow Chows. Apart from the border collies, I think all of these breeds are what people would call “strong” dogs. My dogs have always been loved and cherished as an integral part of my family. Of course we have certain “rules” but I don’t use fear, force or intimidation to implement them. It’s quite simple really: I use rewards and reinforce the behavior I want to see more of.

Any animal can be trained using positive reinforcement
Any animal can be trained using positive reinforcement

Any animal can be taught using positive reinforcement so there really is NO excuse for using force. Take the time to teach your dog what you want them to do and reward them for doing it. It does not matter what breed of dog it is.  Remember all animals can be taught in the same way, so why use force when you can use rewards? No excuses and no exceptions.

Aggressive training can actually lead to aggressive behavior. If you have a “strong” dog you are under a greater obligation than ever to train them properly and make sure that they are well-mannered members of society.  Do not make your dog fearful/aggressive by “training” with fear, force and intimidation.

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