As a trainer and owner of a bully breed dog, I always recommend teaching using reward-based methods. By using aversive, fear-based training methods you can actually destroy the trust and bond you have with your dog.
This is especially true for bully breeds; they are typically very thick-skinned and can take quite a lot of “aversive” training before being intimidated into modifying their behavior. Any dog (especially of bully-descent) can also habituate to pain over time so a leash jerk that might have initially startled your dog can quickly lose its effectiveness after a hundred repetitions.
The thing is, this kind of treatment just isn’t necessary to elicit behaviors that you want. You just have to ask yourself: Would you rather have a dog that follows your cues out of fear or respect?
What is fear?
Let’s talk about what constitutes aversive, fear-based methods besides jerking the leash. Basically, think of any way to intimidate, startle or frighten a dog into achieving results and you’ve got an aversive. Aversives can include alpha rolls, jabbing a dog lightly with your hand, or holding a dog on its side until he or she stops struggling. Most people probably think this sounds horrible yet there are self-proclaimed dog trainers out there convincing owners they need to use these methods with their bully breed dog to show they are “in charge.” The wolf pack studies on which dominance theory training was initially based have been shown to be inaccurate. However, it’s a concept that remains because it seems accessible to people.
If you use aversive methods you will probably see the appearance of control and compliance, but at what cost? The trust and bond you have with your dog is slowly being eroded. Yep, you’ll probably have an obedient dog, but it will be because the dog is living in fear of the consequence of every move he makes. Is this the kind of relationship we want to have with a family pet?
On the other end of the spectrum, reward-based training isn’t just showering a dog with treats and praise. It’s based on understanding how dogs think and learn and then smartly rewarding them when they are doing something “good” and ignoring/redirecting behaviors when they are doing something “bad.” Always remember that dogs are just being dogs. Their behavior is not “bad” in their world; chances are, they’re just acting in a way that has been somehow rewarded in the past and therefore seems “good” or successful to them. To be fair, they live in a world run by humans so why shouldn’t we show them the ropes in a way they can easily understand?
Most reward-based trainers do actually use mild forms of punishment to let the dog know a behavior is unwanted BUT the good ones never use force or intimidation. They just don’t need to. Punishment is not a dirty word unless it’s tainted with force or intimidation. An example of a mild punishment would be turning your back and ignoring on a dog who has jumped up on you or giving a 15-second timeout from play when your puppy’s teeth hit your skin. Smart, force-free punishment is just as effective in letting discouraging a behavior and doesn’t scare or intimidate your dog. Smart rewarding doesn’t always have to be done with food. Once your dog gets the concept of training, you can (and should!) use real-world rewards daily and food every once in a while. Aside from creating a dog that fears you or the choke collar when you use aversives, I think the key difference between using rewards and using aversives has to do with motivation.
Do you want your dog to selectively listen to you when you have treats in your hand or a choke collar on him? Or would you prefer that he actually WANTS to listen because you have a fair and balanced relationship based on trust and respect? It’s a no-brainer for me but give this question some thought and decide for yourself. If you decide trust and respect is the way to go, smart, reward-based training is for you!
As bully breed owners, I think it’s especially important that we lead the charge on using force-free methods with our dogs. We usually get a lot of attention on the street –because bullies are just so darn cute–and we should be using that attention to set a standard of kindness that ALL dog owners can adhere to, no matter if they’re dealing with a mastiff or a chihuahua.
(This post originally appeared at Touch Of Pit)