Positive reinforcement gun dog training is the new kid on the block, surrounded by fields of trainers whom rely on more traditional negative reinforcement methods like ear pinching, shock collars or forced retrieves. Positive reinforcement techniques show there’s another way to train dogs, one that encourages your dog to want to work with you without the use of fear, intimidation or physical punishment. Supporters of positive reinforcement believe using gentler training methods helps build better relationships with dogs.
What is Positive Reinforcement Gun Dog Training?
Positive reinforcement is the act of giving a dog a reward after he/she behaves desirably, thus making the action worth their while and something they are eager to do in exchange for the reward.
Positive gun dog training is far from mainstream. There are still plenty of naysayers and haters out there who say things like, “If positive gun training is so great, why aren’t there more champion dogs trained with positive methods?” The thing is, there are positive-trained gun dogs winning titles despite the disproportionally low number of positive gun dog trainers in the nation.
What is Negative Reinforcement Gun Dog Training?
More traditionally used, negative reinforcement is the act of punishing or applying slight pressure or discomfort to a dog until they act desirably. There’s no denying that certain actions are more fun than any treat tastes, hence how negative reinforcement developed. The belief behind negative reinforcement is that some dogs ignore signals, and the potential for a treat, in exchange for wildly chasing after birds or embarking on some other equally exciting endeavor.
Negative reinforcement should never cause pain to a dog, it should only present slight discomfort or pressure. Negative reinforcement should NEVER look like abuse. Good trainers know how to apply just the right amount of pressure to train hunting dogs without bullying or causing pain.
That’s not to say there aren’t bad trainers who abuse negative reinforcement because there are. Although, selecting a trainer based solely on their use of positive reinforcement won’t save you from bad trainers altogether. That’s why it’s so important to do your research before picking a bird dog trainer.
The Future of Positive Training Methods
Things have changed so much over the last 50-60 years, but positive reinforcement training is still far from mainstream. “Positive trainers also are starting to see positive gun dog training as a niche with potential. I frequently get calls and emails from trainers wanting to shadow me in the field and learn what I do… The gun dog niche is changing, slowly but surely,” writes bird dog trainer Thomas Aaron of FetchMasters for Positively.com.
Mr. Aaron adds that just a few years ago his clients didn’t even know what positive gun dog training was until he introduced them to it, but now people are seeking out his company based on the fact he offers it.
No matter how training methods develop in the future, dogs will remain living, emotional and intellectual creatures with a mind of their own. Even Mr. Aaron agrees, neither negative or positive reinforcement works 100% of the time on 100% of dogs. Yet, isn’t that what makes training and working with hunting dogs such an exciting and fulfilling experience?
Positive Gun Dog Trainers
More and more trainers are introducing positive reinforcement to their training programs. In fact, you’ll find several trainers in our Top Trainer series who swear by positive training techniques.
Some pawsome trainers offering positive reinforcement training:
Jessica Bock at Surefire Gun Dogs & Obedience in Omaha, Nebraska
Thomas Aaron Positive Gun Dog Training in Denver, Colorado
Ivy League Dog Training in Richland County, North Dakota
Share your thoughts on positive reinforcement training for gun dogs in the comments below.