How To Train A Happier, More Optimistic Dog

How To Train A Happier, More Optimistic Dog

The tide is turning towards positive reinforcement – here’s why

Dogs trained using compulsion and punishment have been shown to have higher stress levels compared to dogs trained using reward-based methods. If your dog is struggling with a behavioural issue, using punishment does not teach your dog what to do in place of the problem behaviour – to make matters worse, it also interferes with your dog’s feeling of safety.

Backward concepts based on the old obedience-driven model have shifted towards a relationship-based approach that’s more relevant to dogs living with us as companion animals. Outdated advice like being the “pack leader” and using dominance to show our dogs who is  “alpha” is not totally squashed – but things are changing with modern science leading the way forward.

“Training is no longer something we do TO animals but something we do WITH animals. It is a conversation. We want participation rather than compliance. Let dogs choose the behaviours they are most comfortable with.”

  • Chirag Patel
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Positive reinforcement and reward-based training has been backed consistently by a growing body of science — and a rejection of the outdated way of thinking of wolves and dogs as dominance-oriented beings.

The idea that humans need to actively assert dominance over our pets stems from misinterpreted observations of wild adult wolves forced to live together unnaturally in captivity. However, the natural living condition of most wolves is in a family unit, with the “alpha” pair referring to the breeding pair (i.e. the parents).

It’s been more than 20 years since American biologist and wolf behaviour expert, Dr David Mech, published – and then, when he realised the mistake a few years later after more extensive research, debunked the dominance theory about the “alpha wolf”. Unfortunately, due to widespread misinformation propagated by popular media, this myth continues to plague the dog training world by wrongly assuming that problematic dog behaviours stem from dogs wanting to be the “pack leader”.

“Alpha” Wolf?

Much has changed about the way that learning science is applied today. Additional studies on dogs and the science of learning have further proved that when it comes to the relationship between dogs and humans, dogs are not status-seeking beings. The use of punitive punishment not only damages your relationship with them, it also slows your dog’s progress because compulsion methods destroy their confidence. Studies show that dogs that are frequently punished — especially with harsh physical corrections and intimidation — begin to retreat from trying new things.

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In its simplest form, positive reinforcement training teaches your dog that good things happen when they make good choices. Training with rewards is the best way to shape your dog’s behaviours! Encouraging them to repeat desirable behaviours via reinforcement is not only fun, it also builds bonding and engagement.

“In order to be effective and to gain the best results, all training should be based around positive rewards. Positive reward training works because if you reward your dog with something he wants as soon as he does what you ask, he is far more likely to do it again.”
– Dogs Trust UK


Positive reinforcement is proven to be the best way for dogs to learn. Research over the past two decades consistently tells us that dogs learn the fastest when they are rewarded for doing the right thing (instead of being punished for doing the wrong thing). Other benefits include:

  • Stronger relationship bonds: Training your dog using positive reinforcement builds a shared language of communication that promotes safety and trust. Reinforcement-based training uses a marker system for clear communication between pet guardian and dog. Each time the dog does a desired behaviour, he is reinforced with something he finds rewarding (for e.g. treats, toys, or playtime with his human).

  • Happier dogs: Pet guardians that train using rewards report fewer behaviour problems in their dogs.

  • More confidence: Research shows that dogs trained only with positive reinforcement are more optimistic than those trained with aversives.

  • Better welfare: the welfare of dogs trained with aversive-based methods is at risk, and even more so when aversive methods are used frequently. Dogs trained using aversive methods such as shock collars, leash jerks, and yelling, have worse welfare than dogs trained solely with food rewards.
Candy Lim
Candy Lim

A reinforcement-based practitioner guided by modern science, Candy Lim-Soliano ( is an International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants Accredited Dog Trainer (lAABC-ADT) and AVS Accredited Certified Dog Trainer (ACDT). Candy is also a Fear Free Shelters Graduate who volunteers regularly with Animal Welfare Groups. Applying behavioural change protocols in accordance with LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) guidelines, she works with dogs using the Do No Harm approach which is humane, effective, and free from the use of pain and fear. Candy focuses on training functional life skills using Applied Behaviour Analysis, and guides pet guardians and dogs towards living more happily together.

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