Positive reinforcement doesn't work for every dog, and other assertions.

When you claim that positive reinforcement 'doesn't work for your dog,' it's because you are doing it wrong.

I recently had a dog owner tell me, after sharing with me how amazing her own adolescent dog's recall had progressed through the use of positive reinforcement training, that this type of training just doesn't work for all dogs. Some breeds or personality types need a different approach.

While I do agree that dog training cannot and should not be a 'one size fits all' approach and we need to tailor our behavior change plans to the individual we are working with, this does not mean that the science behind learning theory changes just because you own a Rottweiler instead of a Shih Tzu.

You could just as easily be saying that the law of gravity doesn't apply to people with brown hair. It doesn't make a lick of sense.

One thing I love about science is that it's been studied, tested, and proven (and then replicated and proven again.) Behavior science doesn't care if you're male or female, or big or small, the same principles apply.

Real quick, let's just make sure we're all on the same page when we talk about positive reinforcement:

  • Positive refers to the addition of - it doesn't mean good or bad, it just means we've added something.

  • Reinforcement means that the behavior it directly follows will increase in frequency.

  • Positive reinforcement means we are adding something that results in the increase in the frequency of the behavior that it follows.

There is no asterisk beside these terms stating that these principles are untrue when your dog is over 60lbs or is from a working breed line.

Simply put, if positive reinforcement didn't result in behavior change for your dog, then you weren't doing it properly.

This could be for a number of reasons: your timing could be off, what you were adding wasn't actually reinforcing to your learner, your dog was stressed by the environment, you only tried 1-2 times and then deemed it a failure, and so on.

I love that science is based on facts and not anecdotes. When you say that positive reinforcement doesn't work for types of dogs, you're kind of kicking dirt in science's face, and I really dislike like that.

Maybe positive reinforcement training isn't what you've chosen to employ when training your own dog. That is your choice, and I will do my best to respect that choice.

But don't blame your failed attempts at positive reinforcement training on flaws in the technique itself.

Science deserves to be treated with respect, just as much as your dog does.

Happy Clicking,


Vanessa Charbonneau, is the author of Dog Care for Puppies: A guide to Feeding, Playing, Grooming and Behavior. She owns Sit Pretty Pet Services, employing force-free training techniques to work with companion dogs and their owners. Charbonneau lives in Prince George, BC with her husband, two daughters, and one dog.

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