Nurture Versus Nature

There are many competing schools of thought on training pets. Many types of training classes such as puppy socialization, agility and ring craft are in common use. Several types of training techniques (including positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment) are popular.

Boosters of various training forms and methods have long pointed to theoretical advantages of their tactics. But rigorous studies into the efficacy of each technique have been lacking until now.

A paper in the November, 2008 North American Veterinary Conference Clinician’s Brief outlined one recent study. Here is what the study found.

Dogs trained with positive reinforcement showed significantly fewer behavior problems than those disciplined by other training aids [any form of punishment]. A fear of other dogs was significantly more likely in dogs whose owners used any type of punishment in their training. Dogs trained at home demonstrated significantly more problems than those that attended classes and home training was more likely to be associated with use of physical corrections and inconsistent interactions between dog and owner. Attendance at agility classes was significantly associated with reduction in problem behaviors.

The study implies that the first and most important step to training your pet (especially your dog) is to commit to a formal training program led by an expert. When selecting a program, choose one that focuses on positive reinforcement of good behaviors, rather than correction or punishment of bad ones.